Sunday, July 23, 2017

Video #2: Sailing the Exumas

It's taken more than a year to pull this together, but here are some highlights from our time in the Exumas.   

In Part 1, we had arrived in the Exumas and explored Allan's Cays and Warderick Wells.  In Part 2, we travel down the Exumas chain to Georgetown.   February and March, 2016.  

Here are the blogposts that cover this same time period:

Saturday, April 1, 2017

March 31, 2017 New Orleans, LA

We rose at first light on Monday, February 27th.  The dew was heavy that morning, and the morning coffee ritual had left the dodger window fogged.  But the rising sun was warm, and our spirits were high as La Peregrina motored away from Sarasota’s Otter Key and into the intracoastal waterway.    A 12 knot breeze blew from the southeast, so we let the genoa out to gain an extra knot of speed.  A handful of bridge openings went easily, and we were in the open water of Tampa Bay by noon.  Egmont Key slid by on our port side, and we settled into our passage to the Florida panhandle.  It was the last overnight passage of our Year of Living Dangerously.

We arrived in St. Andrews Bay two days later, on the cold, gray morning of March 1st, just as a cold front arrived.  We got the anchor down in Smack Bayou, a beautiful and wonderfully protected little harbor not far from downtown Panama City, and hunkered down in the cold.  

From there, it was several daysails west to New Orleans.  We had a fast run in 25 knot northerly winds to Destin Harbor, and then to Big Lagoon near Pensacola Bay.  We were thrilled to have Molly and Lola join us for a couple nights.  

Then we took the ICW to Orange Beach, where we managed to meet Rene and some golfing friends for dinner.  Then a short motor to the Bon Secour River where we spent the afternoon and evening with Jack and Margie.  Then across Mobile Bay, into Mississippi Sound to Horn Island.  Then through the Rigolets railroad bridge to the familiar, serene anchorage in the West Mouth of the Pearl River.  

And then, suddenly, it was over.  On March 10, 2017, at about 2:00 in the afternoon, we secured La Peregrina’s dock lines at South Shore Harbor Marina in New Orleans.  In the 426 days since we left this same marina, we had sailed to nine foreign countries, covering roughly 5500 nautical  miles in the process.   It had been everything we had hoped for, and more.  We’re so glad we did it!

Jade drove in from Houston to deliver our car to us.  How great to see both our daughters in the space of a week!  My first drive in quite a while was to Rouse’s to buy a bag of Zap’s potato chips.  They didn’t last long.  It was so nice to be back in our beloved New Orleans!  We caught up with old marina friends, listened to WWOZ on the radio, and ate some fabulous meals.  

La Peregrina has been incredibly good to us over the past 14 months.  She learned to trust us, and we learned to trust her.  She’s a wonderful little boat, capable of much more than we originally expected.  In the early months of our voyage, we were terrified by 20 knot winds, often choosing to hunker down at anchor.   By the end of our trip, we knew our Cabo Rico 34 loved a fresh breeze.  We learned to be comfortable at 25 or even 30 knots, and we never doubted her even during squalls when the winds hit 45 knots.  She is solid as a rock.  

La Peregrina will continue to be our home for a little while, as we re-situate ourselves in “the real world.”  But she has a restless soul.  She’ll be out there again.  I’m sure of it.  

Sunday, February 26, 2017

February 26, 2017: Sarasota, Florida

We’re well into overtime.  Our “one year” adventure started last January in New Orleans.  It’s now the end of February and we’re still out sailing. 

* * * * * * * * 

We met Jade at the Cancun airport about 8:30 pm on New Years Eve.   With the help of a taxi, a ferry, and eager legs, we managed to reach the central plaza in Isla Mujeres with thirty minutes still left in 2016.   Music blared from a sizable stage in the corner, and it seemed the whole town mingled about among tables, some still covered with the detritus of dinner.   Some local women wore their sexiest dresses.  Some men, reeking of cologne, displayed unopened bottles of liquor on their table.  Some grandmothers entertained small children.   All were patient and well-behaved.  The countdown to midnight came:  … Cinco ... Cuatro ... Tres ... Dos ... Uno ... ¡Feliz año nuevo!   Corks were popped, kisses were planted, and the revelry started.  Unlike our New Year’s parties, which reach their climax at midnight, Mexican New Year’s parties only get started at midnight.  Following our own tradition, Maribeth and Jade and I soon walked back to the marina and fell into our bunks.  But the locals had been napping all day, and they partied hard into the night.  The strongest and most popular among them, we’re told, enthusiastically toasted the sunrise at Punta Sur.

In early January, we rented a car with Kent and Shelley of s/v Alta Mae, and took a four-day road trip.  First stop was the delightful little city of Valladolid (Va-ya-doh-LEED,) built on the ancient Mayan settlement of Saki.  We visited the nearby Mayan ruins at Ek Balam.  And then we drove to Merida, the capital of the state of Yucatan.   We saw an amazing show of music and dancing and acrobatics in the Plaza Mayor, and we had some fabulous meals. Kent and I even took a reconnaissance drive to Progreso and Yucalpeten.

Jade stayed 10 days, and we were sad to see her go.  Then my dear cousin Lavergne passed away after a long illness, so I made a quick trip to North Carolina for her funeral.  Then Maribeth and I turned our attention to finding employment, or at least taking preliminary steps in that direction.   Every day, Monday through Friday, we took turns with the laptop and the phone.  We wrote resumes, updated our LinkedIn profiles, and reached out to old co-workers, clients, and bosses.  We got a little momentum going.  

El Milagro Marina, Isla Mujeres, Mexico

But mostly we enjoyed life in Isla Mujeres.  The weather is perfect, the scenery sublime, the people are generous, prices are low, and the living is easy.   Days and weeks slipped by. Beyond Shelly and Kent on Alta Mae, we got to be great friends with Paul and Fiona and Celeste and Lincoln and Poppy on s/v Gone Walkabout, and Mike and Jean of s/v Tomorrow’s Dawn, and Rob and Rhian of s/v Beyzano, and Phil and Maiia of s/v Thumbs Up, and Jeff and Diane of s/v Horizons, and Mike from s/v Segue, and Steve and Anna from s/v Bad Kitty, and Dave and Mary of s/v Argonauta, and Johnny and Bambi from s/v Gemini.  We were delighted when Roy and Dale of s/v Wahoo showed up in the marina one day.  (I have been following the blog of this New Orleans couple for years!)  And we reconnected with Tim and Philippa of s/v Seraphim, who we had first encountered last May in the Cayman Islands, and with whom we had explored Tikal and Lago Izabal.

We watched many sunsets from the rooftop of the hotel.  We made nearly daily trips to Chedraui, the local supermarket.  We tried hard, so hard, to learn Spanish.   But the locals had little patience, more than once telling me “Your Spanish is not so good.  Let’s speak English.”  We attended many sailor cocktail hours, and sampled many restaurants, bars, and music venues.  I set up the sewing machine on the ping pong table and replaced the clear vinyl in my bimini.  I completed a dozen minor repairs and upgrades on La Peregrina, and hired Alejandra to replace the solar cover on the genoa.  We watched Captain Ron in the marina theatre room.  (It’s even better after you’ve been sailing for a year.)  I earned $55 USD one day by crewing on a charter sail one afternoon.  And I discovered a local brewery that actually makes an IPA!  Isla Mujeres is an easy place to love. And a very hard place to leave.  

Isla Mujeres is the eastern-most part of Mexico, and the first to see the sunrise.

But we did, finally, decide it was time to head home.  On Thursday, February 16th, we pulled out of El Milagro Marina and anchored in Isla Mujeres Harbor.  At four o’clock the next morning, we lifted the anchor, raised the sails, and headed north.   Given the weather forecast and the location of the Gulf Stream, we had worked out a course that involved going 27 degrees north for 140 nautical miles, and then turning to 75 degrees east for another 180 miles to the Dry Tortugas.  The plan worked out almost flawlessly.  Over the next 48 hours, the wind blew at 15 to 20 knots - perfect for La Peregrina - first from the east, and then the southeast, and finally the south.   We were on a reach the entire way.  The ride was comfortable and fast.  It was imperfect only because the wind died about four hours too early. We motored past Loggerhead Key, and dropped anchor to the east of Fort Jefferson at 9:00 am on the 19th, 53 hours after raising anchor in Mexico.  We were back in the U.S.A.! 

What a fabulous place the Dry Tortugas are!  We have sailed there twice before, but were still surprised at how lovely and unique it is.  We walked through the Fort, strolled along the wall enclosing the moat, and marveled at the thousands of frigate birds and gulls and skimmers that chatter all day.  Best of all, though, was the unexpected arrival in the anchorage of some old friends from home.  Maribeth and I were down below when we heard voices outside the boat.  I stepped up into the cockpit, and there was Chris and Melody DiCroce sitting in their dinghy with their dog Jet!   They had just arrived aboard s/v Vacilando after an overnight sail from Fort Myers, and were surprised to discover La Peregrina floating nearby.  What a wonderful coincidence!  We shared a cocktail or two that evening, and walked around the fort again with them the next day.   

There is no potable water at the Dry Tortugas, no marina, no cell phone service or wifi, no restaurants, and no stores to buy provisions.  So sailboats don’t generally stay long.  While Chris and Melody debated whether to head for Mexico or to Cuba (I'm betting they're in Cuba right now,) Maribeth and I decided to raise anchor and head northeast.  It is about 130 nautical miles to Ft. Myers Beach, but we had good SE or SSE wind and it was a pleasant sail for almost the entire distance.  But during Maribeth’s last watch, from 4:00 to 8:00 am on the 22nd, the wind rose, and the rain poured.  I was below, sleeping like a baby.  When Maribeth finally woke me I was surprised at how rough the conditions had become and how threatening the skies appeared.  As her watch ended, though, the seas began to calm, and the dark clouds lifted.   By 1:00 pm, we were anchored in calm, protected water off Merwin Key.

The wind offshore was poor for sailing the next day, so we motored north on the ICW.   At mid-day, we had another wonderful surprise when we passed s/v Layla, a Canadian-flagged Tahiti Ketch we had gotten to know in the Exumas last March!  Mike and Marilu easily persuaded us to join them at Pelican Bay anchorage that evening.  A grand time was had.  It seems we are encountering old friends more and more frequently these days.  It’s one of the best things about cruising under sail.

We’re anchored tonight off Otter Key near Sarasota, Florida.  There is a mangrove wilderness immediately in front of us, and multi-million-dollar mansions just behind us.  For a day and a half now, we’ve been watching a pair of bald eagles and a pair of ospreys fight for possession of a nearly-completed nest in a tall dead tree.  We headed to this spot at the suggestion of s/v Layla’s crew because of its easy access to the restaurants and shops of St. Armand’s Circle, and because David and Mary and Ann Binkley agreed to meet us here.  It was great to see them, and to have them visit us for lunch aboard La Peregrina today.

Tomorrow, we plan to continue north and head out Egmont Key Pass.   We’re not certain of our next stop.  We should have 48 or 60 hours of SE and S winds before a cold front arrives. Perhaps we'll make Apalachicola.  Or maybe Pensacola.  Mobile is probably too far.  This little escapade is almost over.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

December 31, Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Howard arrived in Roatan on a rainy Friday.  It was the day after Thanksgiving, and we had celebrated the holiday with a group of rogues, misfits, and sailors in the "tiki palapa," an open-air, thatch-roofed structure at Fantasy Island Marina.  I was still full of turkey and sweet potatoes when we picked him up at the airport.  The dismal weather that had characterized the Carlton's visit - frequent rain and too-little-wind-to-sail - was still dampening our spirits.  At least we caught enough rain to fill the water tanks.

It was good to have Howard aboard.  He threw himself into little tasks that I had ignored for weeks or months.  It's amazing what that guy can fix with WD-40 and Superglue!  With help from the motor, we traveled to Roatan's West End, and then to Utila where we checked out of Honduras.  Then we did the overnight passage to Placencia, Belize via Ranguana Pass.  With a third person available to take a watch, we each had eight hours off between watches.  What a luxury!   

We enjoyed Placencia.  A quiet little town consisting of a couple of dirt roads and one very long concrete sidewalk.  They had a good grocery store, some good eateries, and a convenient bar with a dinghy dock where the sailors congregated.  We traveled down to the Monkey River, which we explored by dinghy.  We saw lots of birds, including toucans, and heard howler monkeys in the distance.  We spent a couple of nights anchored at beautiful, peaceful Palmetto Cay, bumping the bottom during our first approach.  The electronic charts for Belize have serious errors, often placing reefs and islands a quarter mile or more from where they actually sit.  (Trust your eyes, not your chart plotter!)

Captain Howard and Maribeth on the beach at Little Water Cay, Belize

The rain was no longer troublesome, but the wind remained too light for sailing, and none of us were thrilled by the prospect of motoring.  But Howard was flying out of Belize City in a few days, and we needed to get further north.  So we headed off, first to Little Water Cay, then Glover's Reef, then South Water Cay...   As we moved north, the wind returned.  Belize has the world's second-largest barrier reef (behind Australia's Great Barrier Reef.)  The reef breaks the swells and waves from the Caribbean Sea, making for flat, fast, comfortable sailing.  The coast is oriented north and south, and the wind blows typically from the east, meaning we sailed north on a reach, the fastest point of sail.  I was happy Howard could enjoy a couple full days of fabulous sailing - often at 7 knots or more - as we made our way north to Colson Cays and ultimately to Caye Caulker.  

Howard caught a puddle jumper out of Caye Caulker on the 10th, and Maribeth and I prepared to sail north to Mexico.   Our plan was to make the short 24-mile sail from San Pedro to Xcalak (ish-CAH-lahk.) Xcalak has a tricky entrance through the reef, and we wanted to arrive there when the sun was high in the sky.  So we set out early on the 14th, motoring and bouncing out the narrow, twisting path through San Pedro Pass.  Once safely through the pass, we decided to motor further east to gain a better angle on the wind for our sail north.  But then the motor sputtered and died.  I knew the motor was fuel-starved, but the tank had plenty of diesel, and I had just replaced the fuel filter.  Nevertheless, I re-checked the filter, and added our reserve jug of fuel to the tank.  No luck.  Maybe there was air in the system.   I worked the manual pump, but could get no fuel to the motor.   So we concluded we must have a blockage somewhere in the fuel line.  The seas were much too uncomfortable for me to start tearing into fuel lines.   What to do?  There was no way I was going to attempt sailing into Xcalak with no motor.  A mistake would be disastrous.   For the same reason, we couldn't even return to San Pedro.  So I started studying the chart as Maribeth helmed the boat.  We were headed north, but the only pass through the reef that seemed safe for a boat with no motor was four hours south of us.  So, reluctantly, we turned around.  To make matters worse, I became momentarily seasick, leaving Maribeth to jibe La Peregrina by herself while I hung on the lifeline, giving my breakfast to the sea.  What a miserable puppy I was!  And thank God Maribeth is a good sailor!

By 1:30, we had sailed through Long Cay Pass and anchored in the lee of Long Cay.   Within an hour, I found and cleared a blockage in the fuel line, and bled the air from the system.  The motor ran great.  We had started the day 24 miles from Xcalak, and now we were 40 miles away.   Our weather window for sailing north had now closed.  One step forward, two steps back.  

Three days later, we set out again.  We raised anchor before dawn and sailed north from Caye Caulker.  We were through San Pedro Pass for the second time at 8:00 am, and pointed north on a beautiful reach, this time headed for Isla Mujeres.  We were moving slow at first, but we gradually gained speed as we moved further offshore.  At four o'clock, I reeled in the fishing line, and was surprised to discover we had caught a baracuda.  Finally, we had gotten a fish into the cockpit, but not one we cared to eat!   

It turned out to be a fantastic sail.   We had winds from 15 to 24 knots, 60 to 120 degrees to starboard the entire way.  La Peregrina was so happy!  We sailed for hours at 7 knots or more.  For a few hours near Cozumel, the current helped us move along at more than 9 knots, hitting 10.2 knots a couple of times.  Fasten your seatbelt!  We had the anchor down in Bahia Isla Mujeres at 4:30 in the afternoon.  We had made the 230 nautical miles from Caye Caulker to Isla Mujeres in 35 hours, counting ground tackle time at both ends of the trip.  And the motor, which had caused us to abort our first attempt at reaching Mexico, had barely run at all.  

We spent five days getting checked into Mexico, a more difficult process than any other country we've visited this year.  By the time we were through, it was only two days until Christmas.  We decided to give ourselves some marina time for Christmas.  So we moved from the anchorage to El Milagro Marina and Resort.  Here we had a tremendous Christmas meal with about 80 people, comprised of the marina's sailors, hotel guests, and the Mexican workers and their families.  We were terribly homesick for friends and family.  But it was a fun gathering, and a great cultural experience we will long remember.

La Peregrina, dressed for Christmas

I think we'll stay here at El Milagro for another week or two.  Jade arrives tonight for a ten-day visit.  We can't wait to have her.   

I write this on New Year's Eve.  As we approach the end of "Our Year of Living Dangerously," we naturally reflect back on this remarkable experience.   We've seen and learned much.  One thing we've really come to appreciate is how much all of you mean to us.  Please know that you are never far from our thoughts, that we love to hear from you, and that we wish you all the very best for 2017 and beyond.  

¡Feliz año nuevo!


Thursday, November 24, 2016

November 24; French Harbor, Roatan

On Saturday, the 12th, the Carltons flew into Roatan to spend a week with us aboard La Peregrina.  Their luggage, however, failed to show up.   About half of their baggage was their personal clothes and snorkel gear.  The other half was stuff for us:    It included several items for the boat that I could not obtain in Guatemala:  clear vinyl to replace a clouded window on our bimini, sewing needles, basting tape, and electric indicator lights for the boat’s DC panel.  To this, the very generous Carltons had added a bunch of goodies they knew we sorely missed:  sun dried tomatoes, quality cheese, nuts, a loaf of artisan bread, and some salted caramels!  Bob even packed a cutting board he had made out of teak and holly with “La Peregrina” carved on the back.   It was all missing.

The Carltons took it all in stride.  The airline had given them a toiletries kit and a $500 allowance to purchase items they needed.  And virtually everything they needed could be bought at one of the many t-shirt or dive shops in Roatan.   So they refused to let the situation ruin their vacation.  But I was a different story.  I was like a child who woke up on Christmas morning and discovered there was nothing under the tree.  I sulked all week.

Bob Carlton shares a beer with Cheeky, one of the monkeys that hangs around Fantasy Island Resort.  Bob is to left.
Unfortunately, it seemed nearly everything went wrong the week the Carltons were here.  We had hoped to take them to Guanaja or to Cayos Cochinos.  But the Honduran authorities took five days to give me a sailing permit, and the Carlton’s week was half over before I felt we could permissibly leave Roatan.  It was cloudy and rainy all week.  There was almost no wind.  We never got a chance to sail; we never even took the mainsail cover off.  And we spent hours and hours in a futile effort to find lost luggage. 

If I had a pony...

But we did get to see a good bit of the south coast of Roatan:  French Harbor, Port Royal, the little fishing village of Oak Ridge, and West End. We had many dinghy rides.  We snorkeled.  We had a fabulous lobster dinner at Mango Creek Resort.  Maribeth cooked excellent meals, and we drank, and laughed, and listened to music, and had stimulating, semi-intelligent conversations.   The Carltons were gracious, convivial guests, and though I regret we did not provide more sunshine and more adventure, we thoroughly enjoyed their visit.
Bob and Terrie aboard La Peregrina
We have since learned that the luggage was found and was returned to Nashville airport the same night the Carlton’s flew back to Nashville.  During its week on the run, it had been in Miami, Houston, Dallas, Mexico City, El Salvador, Ecuador, and Puerto Rico.  But never Roatan.

There was one more item in the Carlton’s luggage:  ashes of Robin Fields.  Robin was a dear friend, and long time companion of Captain Howard Toole.  She died one year ago, and Howard asked that we spread her ashes in the Caribbean Sea and “laugh, drink, sing, and dance.”  One reason so many of us loved Robin was because she was a free spirit, willing to try anything once.  She had spent part of her youth in South America, and was known there as Pahara, the Spanish word for “bird.”  It is hard not to think that Robin wanted one more adventure, one more wild and crazy Latin American tour.  She was going, and the luggage would just have to tag along.  Here’s to you, Robin!  

On Monday, the 21st, we raised anchor, and sailed south away from West End, Roatan toward Cayos Cochinos.  It was an easy four-hour trip.  How nice to be exploring again, away from a tourist economy!  Cayos Cochinos are a group of 13 islands 20 miles north of the Honduran mainland.  We picked up a mooring ball off Cochino Grande, the largest island, and spent all day on the 22nd exploring by dinghy.  We snorkeled, walked on the beach, hiked to the top of the island, and climbed up the old lighthouse (no longer working since the solar panels blew away.)  And we saw, for the first time in a while, a gorgeous sunset.  

The sun sets over Cochino Poqueno

Atop Cochino Grande Light

We are now back in Roatan, anchored in the protected waters of French Harbor.  We’ll have a Thanksgiving dinner with other American sailors this evening.  We’re looking forward to Captain Howard’s arrival tomorrow.  We’ll head for Belize in a few days.  Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

It’s Thanksgiving and I am jubilant!   The good Lord has blessed me with incredible family and friends.  And I am enjoying the opportunity to go sailing for a year in the Caribbean and Central America.  One of our goals for this year was to be way chilled.  If we got more chilled than we are now we would most likely not be among the living.  What a luxury to have the time to make a journey on it’s timeframe, not mine.

So many of you read our blogs and think it would be a once in a lifetime opportunity to travel on a sailboat.  Joe ends every blog asking you to join us.  He is sincere in his invitation.  But the truth is this boat is really small and the weather hardly cooperates and it usually takes days to get where we want to go.

Has our trip not lived up to our expectations?  It most certainly has and more than we hoped for!  So what is my point?  If you feel passionate about something you want to do, then do it.  Take a leap of faith and go for it.  And be thankful for the opportunity.  

So that brings me full circle.  I am truly thankful.  Thankful for my adventurous husband who encourages me to step out of my comfort zone.  Thankful for my children and family who encouraged me to make the trip. And thankful for my friends who cheered me on and said don’t worry, it will all be ok, we’ve got your back while you are gone.  It’s a grand life!!

Lamb Cay, Cayos Cochinos

Friday, November 11, 2016

November 11; Roatan, Islas de Bahia, Honduras

Best wishes to all our veterans.  We are grateful.

La Peregrina is back in the islands!   When I last wrote, we were excited about spending a few days sailing Guatemala's Lago Izabal.  I was particularly looking forward to dinghying around in the upper tributaries which were reported to be full of monkeys, toucans, and crocodiles.   In the company of s/v Seraphim and her English crew, Tim and Philipa Green, we headed up the lake on Tuesday, November 1st.  We had a beautiful anchorage off Denny’s Beach that night, and enjoyed our peaceful escape from the bustle of Rio Dulce Town and its noisy bridge.  

La Peregrina anchored in Laguna Salvador

But our good luck didn’t last long.  I broke a molar that first night out.  There was no pain, but I had a big hole in my mouth, and ignoring it seemed like inviting trouble.  So on Wednesday, we motored back to Rio Dulce Town.  I made a dental appointment for the next day.  In the wee hours of Thursday morning, Maribeth ferried me across the river in the dinghy where I caught the 3:00 a.m. bus to Guatemala City.  After a six hour bus ride and a 15 minute cab ride, I got to spend three hours in a Guatemalan dentist’s office.  It was a very good experience.  It was as modern and efficient a dental office as any I’ve seen in the U.S.   The service was better.  The price was drastically lower.  Sporting my new dental onlay, I caught the 5:00 pm bus back to Rio Dulce, and shortly after midnight I was back aboard La Peregrina.  

Two young Mayan fishermen in their ancient, broken cayuco on Laguna Salvador

We were disappointed our exploration of Lago Izabal hadn’t worked out.  But our aborted excursion had given us confidence that La Peregrina was ready for travel.  So at mid-day on Friday, November 4, we finished saying our goodbyes, raised our anchor, and left Rio Dulce Town.  We had made a fast trip up the Rio back in June, so we lingered on the way back down.  We spent one night in gorgeous Laguna Salvador, just off El Golfete.  There, we were visited by a couple of young women paddling a very leaky cayuco.   The boat had been hollowed out from a single tree, apparently quite a long time ago. 
Maribeth with Catery y Amelia, our new Mayan friends
When they arrived alongside La Peregrina, the boat had two inches of water in the bottom, and I noticed that the older sister was using her foot to keep a rag stuffed in a 10-inch split in the hull.  We invited them aboard, and the cayuco quickly filled with water.  The girls were unconcerned.  They visited awhile, then climbed back in their swamped little boat.  I expected it to sink immediately.  But one sister started bailing, and the other sister started paddling with one foot over the hole.  Our new young Mayan friends and their trusted cayuco glided easily away.   

On Saturday, we visited a manatee refuge, where we had a fascinating dinghy ride up a narrow creek, saw amazing armies of ants, and got drenched in the rain, but saw no manatees.  We had a quiet night anchored in Texan Bay that night.  As we do most Sunday mornings, we enjoyed a big breakfast with coffee and Baileys.  I piddled with a few boat chores, and then we finally made the short trip through the impressive Rio Dulce gorge back to Livingston.  On Monday morning, we checked out of Guatemala with mixed emotions.  What a fascinating country!  

Gilligan and Mary Ann

It was a surprisingly quick trip east to the Bay Islands of Honduras.  We had expected to be beating against easterly trade winds.  Instead, we were blessed with light westerlies.  So, after anchoring off Cabo Tres Puntas the first night, we motor-sailed virtually the entire way to Roatan, and anchored at West End at dawn on Wednesday, about 42 hours after leaving Livingston.  We are tied up now at Fantasy Island Marina, stuck here until we finish the clear-in process.  The Honduran authorities seem to be in no hurry.  Bob and Terrie Carlton will join us tomorrow.  We are looking forward to their visit!

Check our SailLaPeregrina on Instagram.  And find our location by clicking this link:

It's nice to be back in the islands!  Roatan, Islas de Bahia, Honduras

Monday, October 31, 2016

October 31, Rio Dulce, Guatemala

It's been more than a month since we returned to Guatemala and we've grown quite fond of the place. 

Time is different here.  When we Americans think of our history, we might start with our independence in the 18th century, or with the pilgrims in the 17th, or maybe with Columbus 500 years ago.  Our family histories typically trace back to Europe or Africa.   Our country is new, and I always assumed that was true in all the Americas.  

It is not true in Guatemala.  Here, the Mayans are huge portions of the population, and their story goes back millennia.  There is 3000 years of recorded history here, written in the few books the conquistadors did not burn, and chiseled in thousands of hieroglyphs throughout the countryside - complete with the names of the protagonists and precise dates for key events.  These are people whose ancestors have been here for thousands of years.  This is their only motherland.  The Spanish conquest in the 1500s was one more chapter in these people's long story:  not the beginning, and not the end.  This makes everything in Guatemala seem a little timeless, primordial, mystical, different.

The Mayans are quiet, humble people.  Almost none speak English.  They speak Spanish as a second language, but their first language - the language they speak at home - is one of the 20-something Mayan languages that thrive here.  Unlike much of the Caribbean, the people here do not hustle sailors, and never ask for handouts.  Physically, they are small.  The average Mayan woman is only 4' 8" tall, and the average Mayan man is 5' 2".  They do not, however, look underfed.  Some are quite round.  

The town here - officially Fronteras on the north side of the river, and Relleno on the south side of the river - is unofficially called Rio Dulce Town on both sides of the river.  There are few cars here.   It is buses and large trucks carrying cattle, fuel, or merchandise that clog the roads.  Motorcycles seem the most common conveyance used by locals.  It is common to see three people on a motorcycle, or even an attractive young woman in a little black dress and high heels.  Otherwise, people get around on tuk-tuks, little three-wheeled vehicles which carry five people or more, and do it very inexpensively.  

The main road through town is dangerously narrow, and we frequently glance over our shoulders for coming traffic as we walk.  Mayan women wearing traditional brightly-colored huipiles sell fruits and vegetables from tiny stands.  Children of five or six walk barefoot hawking chewing gum or plantain chips for 2 or 3 quetzales (30 or 40 cents.)  Women flip fresh tortillas or grilled chicken with their bare fingers as the smell of their propane and wood fires mixes with the aroma of diesel smoke and cow manure.  A young man stands next to the open door of his van, offering customers a ride to the next town:  "Morales, Morales, Morales!"  The deafening sound of jack brakes punctures the air as an 18-wheeler descends the Puente Rio Dulce to the traffic jam below.  A middle aged man wearing blue jeans and a cowboy hat jumps out of his truck and purchases a coca-cola before the bus in front of him starts moving again.  It is a grimy, smelly, chaotic delight of a little town.

Like trolls in the fairy tales, we sailors live our lives under the bridge and below the town.  There are several marinas clustered together here on the Rio Dulce, each with its own character.  Mar Marina and Tortugal attract boaters with their weekly movie nights.  At the appropriate hour, lanchas are sent around to the other marinas to pick up customers for the evening's dinner, drinks, and cinema.  Nana Juana has a boat yard and a Travel Lift big enough to raise the largest catamarans.   Bruno's has a free dinghy dock and a monthly swap meet where boaters trade or sell no-longer-wanted "treasures from the bilge."  SunDog has pizza, and Marvin's Shack has great music and decent hamberguesas.  It's all a strange and wondrous little world.  

Here at RAM Marina, we have nearly everything a sailor might want during hurricane season: a huge boatyard; a fuel dock; a convenience store/restaurant; a West Marine store; a covered workshop area with a drill press, a vice, and a grinder; and an air conditioned boaters lounge with wifi.  The workers here are the best I've found anywhere.  They are highly-skilled, professional, friendly people.  And they are cheap:  $50 per day.   (This is perhaps why they are so good.  When the hourly rate is low, people take the time to do things right.)

RAM Marine from Puente Rio Dulce

We took two trips inland.  We spent six days traveling west to Guatemala City and Antigua.  Guatemala City is a large, modern city with a couple million people, a Walmart, and at least one shopping mall with all the same stores we have in malls back home.  The people here are mostly Ladinos.  They are descended from the Spanish, they are taller and paler than the Mayans, and they embrace western culture enthusiastically.  Antigua, for us, was a welcome retreat from the busy city.  It is a quaint old colonial city nestled in a valley below three volcanoes.  It was built by the Spanish in the 1540s as Guatemala's first capital, but was destroyed by earthquakes three times before the capital was moved to Guatemala City.  We stayed in an AirBnB on a quiet edge of Antigua, a short walk from everything in town. Our host, Evelyn, was wonderful, and the house was amazing:  the center of the house was open to the sky - no air conditioning or heating is needed in Antigua - with a rooftop patio for watching the volcanoes belch.  And we had a fabulous dinner with Bill Harriss, a former HIYC member now residing in Antigua.  It is easy to understand how one might come to Guatemala and never leave.

Antigua, from Cerro de Cruz
El Arco de Santa Catalina with Volcan de Agua behind, Antigua

We also took a trip north.  We were among 70 people on a bus with 44 seats.  I stood in the aisle for 3 hours.  Two overweight men with legs sprawled feigned sleep in the seat to my left.  A family of five, including a nursing infant and luggage, shared the two seats to my right.  I stood with my arms outstretched, clinging to handrails on either side above me, and imagined crucifiction.  We (finally) arrived in Flores, a delightful little tourist village on a small island on a lake.  From there we took the 3:00 am shuttle to the Mayan ruins at Tikal, where we sat atop Temple IV, listening to the jungle come alive as the sun rose behind the clouds.  (Howler monkeys sound like dinosaurs!)  Tikal was occupied for about 1800 years, starting in about 900 BC.  It was a large and wealthy city; there are literally thousands of stone and mortar buildings there, most still covered by earth and foliage.  An amazing place, full of critters and ghosts.

The Jungle Comes Alive; Sunrise at Tikal

One of the temples at Tikal
The sailing community is bustling right now, as many boats are preparing to leave the Rio for adventures East, South, and North.  We've been busy also, taking on dozens of little boat chores.  We've re-stitched and re-sealed canvas, varnished the cap rails and moustache, removed and re-bedded a port light, polished stainless steel, and finally replaced our aged freshwater pump.  We've got a couple more little items we want to address, and then we're off sailing again.  We can't wait!  

Our immediate plan is to head first upstream, further away from the salty sea.  A brief exploration of huge Lago Izabal will be a shake-down cruise before we leave the resources of Rio Dulce behind.  Then we'll head east, back to the Bay Islands of Honduras.  The Carltons will join us there for a week.   Captain Howard is also planning to join us later in November.  You should be planning your visit to La Peregrina also!  

You can follow our progress by using this link:

And check out SailLaPeregrina on Instagram.

Happy Halloween to everyone!