7/17-7/24 Isla Providencia, Colombia

After anchoring and passing out for a couple of hours, we began the check-in process. Other than our passports being held hostage by the check-in agent, Mr.Bush , for FIVE or so days the process was pretty painless. I was so happy to be in Providencia that it could have been a dump and I would have thought it was beautiful and majestic, but after a couple of days exploring the island, I realized that the island was truly beautiful. It is mountainous and surrounded by crystal clear water and reef. We hiked to Morgan’s head, a large rock that protrudes from the island that is said to resemble the silhouette of the famed pirate Captain Morgan. The hike was great and the view from Morgan’s head was beautiful. We spent a lot of time relaxing and enjoying Colombia’s cheap beers of choice- Blatz (as gross as it sounds), Old Milwaukee, and the champagne of beers, Miller High Life. We did splurge on a few Aguila’s which was the popular Colombian beer but it was considerably more than the cheap stuff. We still have no idea why the cheapest beer in Providencia is all low quality American beers, but Blatz tasted like a fine microbrew to us after our eventful days on the water.

Most people get around Providencia via scooter. We rented this mode of transportation for a day and never uttered the s word. What we rented was clearly a hog, fit for two-oversized gringos. We rode our hog all around Providencia for a day with Conor and Meghan. We chose a hike to Providencia’s highest point (we didn’t have enough daylight to hike all the way to the top), scenic lookout points, a deserted beach, a not so deserted beach with a guy selling “coco-loco’s” a rum drink served in a coconut, and a pizza joint for our pit stops. It was so much fun, and exactly what we needed.

After getting our psyche back in order, we got the Salty Dog back into shape. We cleaned her up, dried her out, filled her up with diesel and water, and changed the shaft packing gland. Changing the shaft packing gland had been a listed project for months and months, but over the past week the shaft packing gland had been letting a lot more water into our boat than we were comfortable with. We also had a mechanic come to look at the engine to address our RPM issue. We didn’t do our much needed to be done laundry, because it was very expensive to have it done by a lady in town. She had a charge by the piece type of deal going on and was the only laundry option in town. We also didn’t do anything about our torn jib, because there was no professional sail maker/repairer on the island, and the job was now far beyond our expertise. Just trying to untangle it resulted in a throwing of a hat and a bunch of expletives from the captain. We left it alone and decided we would use the little bit left to catch some wind on our way to Panama.

Retrieving the halyard, which had tied itself into a knot on the rigging, at the top of our mast was the task we didn’t quite know how to complete. I couldn’t crank Ted up the mast as usual because the halyard, which we normally connected the bosuns chair to, had already made its way up the mast. Shimmying up the mast was out of the question-but not until after Ted tried unsuccessfully. I can shimmy…on land. We decided our best option, which was to get into Voltron formation with the Gualby, pull our mast towards the Gualby, crank Ted up the Gualby’s mast, have Ted swing from the top of the Gualby’s mast to as close as possible to our mast and try to untangle the halyard with a boat hook (a boat hook attached to a 10 foot pole with duct tape to make it about 15 feet long) and pull the halyard down. My stomach hurt and my palms got sweaty as I watched Ted dangling 60 feet above in the air and in between two boats. It sucked. After what seemed like 30 minutes, Ted was able to somehow get the halyard down. I really think he can do anything.

Sidenote-on the day that we decided to retrieve the halyard, we pulled anchor, motored over to the Gualby, got our boats connected and began talking about how the hell we were going to get this thing from the top of our mast. While we were talking our check-in agent Mr. Bush, still sans passports, came up to us on a boat and asked Conor if he would take the Police General of Cali, Colombia for a day sail. Mr. Bush explained that the general had came to Providencia for a vacation, saw a catamaran in the anchorage and wanted to go for a sail on it. After some puzzled looks, Ted explaining that this was kind of an inconvenient time, and Mr. Bush admitting that it would be a big favor, Conor agreed to take the general out on his boat. The Gualby is usually neat and tidy, but like the Salty Dog, the Gualby had still not fully recovered from our trip to Providencia. Meg and her assistant, yours truly, worked our magic as the guys got fuel and the boat looked great as the General and his family and friends arrived on the boat.

The sail to Southwest Bay was beautiful and exciting. This was our first time exploring the island by boat, because we didn’t have our passports back! We anchored in front of a beach restaurant that everyone said was the best on the island. We went for a swim, and when I returned to the table I saw the waitress bring out a large, cookie sheet full of beautifully presented seafood. They said that one cookie sheet was for two people, but I thought they were joking. I was wrong. Ted and I ate a cookie sheet full of a large, whole, hogfish, crab, lobsters, conch, breadfruit, coconut rice, and salad. I was impressed by the dent we made in our cookie sheet until I looked around and saw everyone else had practically licked the sheet, including eating the eyeballs of the fish. It was by far the best meal I have had since we left the states. Actually, it may be the best meal I have ever had. We truly appreciate Mishelle and Esmeralda treating us to this meal. We said our thank yous and good byes and our new friends caught a private jet back to San Andres, Colombia, as we sailed back to the anchorage.

The only thing I didn’t like about Providencia was that there was a bar that had large speakers blasting terrible music directly toward the anchorage, day and night. We were about 100 yards from the bar and the music was so loud that we would either have to turn the music off on our boat or crank our music to drown the bar’s music out. I envisioned a festival or a raging beach party going on, but when we paddled into town and walked into the outside bar, we found four dudes sitting about 4 feet from each other drinking Old Milwaukee and staring into the anchorage. It was bizarre. After a couple of days we got used to the music and enjoyed cocktails on the deck of our boat and sang along to every bad song we now knew by heart.
-s

Biker Gang

"If you can read this shirt..."

Burn dust. Eat my rubber.

Pit Stop

Coco Loco next to the octopus bus stop

Coconut

Mission Halyard Recovery

Knot cool

Got It

A quick Isla Providencia video taken with my laptop

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7/14-7/16 Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua to Providencia, Colombia

As we were pulling up to the pier at Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, it began to rain very hard, not any wind or waves but just heavy rain which impeded our visibility. We noticed once we got close that the pier was unlike any we had seen so far. It was first of all very large, clearly old, and much higher off the water than most Caribbean piers. It looked more like a giant California fishing pier in size, minus the hot dog carts and tourists. There were a number of boats med-moored to the south side and there didn’t seem to be any place to tie up our boat, which looked quite small in comparison to the local fishing boats. We anchored just south of the pier and I paddled the kayak in to have a look. As I paddled up to a small platform under the dock for pangas a crowd of interested fishermen and locals formed to see the bearded gringo with a neon green kayak and yellow foul weather pants, a sight which was apparently pretty alien.

I climbed up to the pier and asked where I could get diesel. One gentleman responded in english and told me that my kayak would be okay and to leave it and follow him. The man’s name was Juan, and seeing as how I didn’t have much of a choice I decided to leave my kayak tied up and follow him. I told him that I wanted to get diesel quickly and then leave, but he brought me straight to the Port Captain who I was trying to avoid… Doh! I actually did not have much of a chance to avoid the Port Captain as his office was at the base of the pier and his window looked out directly on it.

The Port Captain was a small guy in uniform who definitely acted the part. He was a commanding presence, and I had to wait nearly 40 minutes just to talk to him. I finally walked back into his office and told him that I was there as an emergency stop on my way to Providencia, because I had run out of fuel and my sail was torn. I politely requested to be able to quickly purchase the necessary fuel and then be on my way. He explained that because I had landed in Nicaragua I was required to be checked in. I would have to: pay the port captain check-in fees, pay to med moor (a relatively difficult way to tie to a dock in rough seas) my boat, be searched by the customs officers, take a taxi to the immigration office, and pay for my immigration stamps. He knew that his fee was $25 USD, but he did not know what the other fee amounts were. I explained that I did not have the money for all of these procedures and that even more importantly I did not have the time, as their was a storm coming and I needed to get to Providencia as soon as possible. The port captain said that he was sorry but there was no way to avoid this.

I asked him if I could just pay him his fee and an additional fee for the “convenience” then leave quietly after refueling. Under international maritime law I am supposed to be given 48 hours to refuel and re-provision in any country before having to officially check-in, but in this corner of the world, on this night, I had a hunch that quoting international maritime law was not going to help me much. He also told me that the storm was already upon us and while it was raining and the wind was blowing moderately hard I did not think that the actual storm I was racing with was there yet. He advised against leaving that night, but I insisted so he told me he would call immigration and have someone come over for an after hours processing (after hours sounded expensive but I had no choice). I called Shannon on my handheld VHF, and she told me that the anchorage was “very, very rolly” but that she was okay. I waited for the immigration officers to arrive for over 90 minutes, and when I asked the port captain their status he impatiently brushed me off. This was close to 11 pm at this point, and I was exhausted. I was waiting outside on a porch overlooking the water, and I overheard some other people in the office saying that the winds were expected to be 30 knots that night. I started to get the feeling that the immigration officer was not coming, and I started to think that maybe I should just wait until morning. I asked the port captain what time he gets in in the morning, and he told me 8 a.m. I told him I would return then.

I kayaked back to the boat exhausted and starving, and as I approached I could tell that “very very rolly” was an understatement. The wind held the boat at such an angle that when a swell came in, which it did every 2 minutes or so, the boat would take the swell right on the side and it would rock so hard that the rails (top edge of the sides) would dip in the water. While I had thought I was having a miserable time in a third world port captain’s office in the rain, Shannon was dealing with dishes and books and everything else not tied down being flung from one side of the boat to the other. Unbelievably, during this chaos she managed to make a pot of coconut rice for us, as we had not eaten anything for hours and hours. She basically had to hold the pot by its handle during the whole process. I explained the situation and while the wind was nowhere near 30 knots, she agreed that we should get some rest and try again to get everything in the morning. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, but we could definitely not sleep in such a rolly anchorage. Even lying on our bed was difficult, as the rolling boat either slid us into each other or almost flipped us over and over.

I took a melatonin. I really needed to rest at this point and knew that the next day was going to be very important. After about an hour of misery, I got out of bed and put my clothes on. I figured that if I couldn’t sleep anyway I might as well get the fuel and be all filled up so that I could leave after I get checked in the next morning. I paddled my kayak back in with my 3 jerry cans and hailed a cab to the gas station. The gas station was a few miles away, and I had to pay the cab extra to allow him on the pier, but it was still rather inexpensive for the ride. We arrived at the gas station at around 1 a.m. and luckily they sold diesel fuel. I needed 40 gallons for my tank and then wanted to have the 15 gallons of jerry cans full when I left, but they did not sell additional jerry cans. I spoke with the gas station manager and convinced him to lend me 2 large jugs he had behind his station so that I could fill my tanks. We drove back, and I paddled the jugs to my boat one by one. I still don’t know how, but Shannon and I managed to fill our tanks from up on deck without not only spilling very much but without allowing salt water into the deck fill cap when the boat rocked into the water. Reason #6472 that I couldn’t have done this trip without my first mate.

I took the taxi back to the gas station and returned the jerry cans. I then paddled back out to the boat where Shannon and I agreed that we would just leave under cover of darkness and rain and head straight for Providencia without officially checking in. It was quite dark and I was pretty confident that we would make it out undetected. Shannon started the engine and I pulled up the anchor. We had not gone 100 feet from where we anchored when the engine suddenly conked out. We dropped the anchor back down and I went below to see what the problem was. I tried all the usual tricks and finally figured that, while I it had not been long since I replaced it, that the filter it must be a clogged. It was now probably 3 a.m. and I changed the filter but still could not get the engine started. I was exhausted, delirious, frustrated, and covered with diesel fuel while I did everything from bleeding the fuel line to cleaning the air filter. It was definitely one of those low points in life where it didn’t feel like things could get much worse. I couldn’t think of anything else, so I basically fell asleep on the floor next to the engine room until Shannon helped clean me up and coaxed me into bed. It was still terribly rolly, but at this point I could’ve slept through a car crash in the condition I was in.

We awoke at about 6:30 a.m. and decided that we would get a mechanic and pay whatever it cost to get this engine working. As a last minute “just in case” I tried once more to start her up and of course she started on the first try. I went back to the engine room again to make sure everything looked alright and everything did. We had the engine running and we were full of fuel. The sun had just come up and some fishing boats were already making their way out to open water. I still had and hour and a half until my prescribed time to meet the port captain. I asked Shannon what she thought about just leaving and hoping that no one would notice in order to avoid the time and fees necessary to check out. We wanted to leave in order to beat the storm, which was getting closer and closer and we both knew it. I explained that we could get in a lot of trouble with the Nicaraguan authorities, but that I didn’t think they would come all the way out to chase us. I also made it clear that we both needed to be in agreement if we were going to try. We decided to go for it.

We headed directly out and I even tried to angle our departure so as to block the port captain’s view of us from his office behind the pier. We made it about a mile and a half out and both of us had our stomachs in our throat. We were pretty sure we were okay and were glad to finally be leaving when I looked back with the binoculars and saw a panga boat headed right at us with the port captain and three men armed with machine guns. I told Shannon to make a 90 degree turn to starboard, and she did so with haste. I decided that we were going to tell him that we had been experience engine problems and were just testing her out before our 8 a.m. meeting. I went down below and laid out all my wrenches and rags and proceeded to wipe grease all over my forearms. The panga came up on us quickly, and I explained to our heavily armed pursuers about our engine issues and that I was making a big square, hence the 90 degree turn.

He yelled back to return to the anchorage immediately, and I did my best to act nonchalantly and asked him if he remembered that we were meeting at 8 a.m. I did my best to not act guilty while on the inside I pictured what the inside of a Nicaraguan jail cell must look like. Shannon and I motored back with our escort no more than 30 feet from us at all times, and I told her that we need to stick to our story no matter how unbelievable, although I did not know exactly what was going to happen now. We returned to where we had been the night before, and the port captain had his men drive him up to our boat where he proceeded to board us. I invited him down below to show him my dirty wrenches and acted as if there was problem and that I was glad to see him. We offered him coffee and I could not have been nicer. He requested our documents and one of his men boarded and began searching the boat. He filled out some paperwork, which I understood to be the normal check-in documentation and nothing more. I couldn’t believe that he was not acknowledging the fact that we were just trying to skip out on him. He filled out the documents and then told me to meet him in his office in 30 minutes to pay the check-in fees and get the immigration stamp. When he left, Shannon and I looked at each other in disbelief. Did he buy the “testing our engine” story? We were part relieved, but at the same time weary of what might still happen.

I paddled in once again and met Juan, who was on the dock waiting to meet me so that he could act as translator for our planned 8 a.m. meeting. We walked back to the end of the pier ,which was obviously much more lively in the morning, as fishermen were bringing their catch in. I saw one man with a beheaded and “de-finned” shark over his shoulder that must’ve been 9 feet long. At the base of the pier right in the middle of the main street there were about a dozen fully mature sea turtles on their backs, which I am assuming were for sale or at least being prepared to be transported for future sale. That was quite a strange and sad sight for someone from a country that goes so far to educate people about the importance of sea turtle conservation. As I had no cash left after all the diesel I bought, I asked Juan to take me to the bank to pay the check-in fees. He walked me through the town, which I had only driven through in a taxi the night before. He led me down small muddy roads and through residential areas with small children playing and women selling bananas and other fruit. It was apparent that this was a quite a poor town but maybe all the rain and mud didn’t help my impression.

I withdrew some money and stopped to get some groceries, including a big bag of “cheer up Shannon” candy, on my way back to the port captain. I waited for over an hour for the port captain to meet with me again and when he did he did not even seem perturbed let alone angry about our escape attempt. He told me that I would need to pay him $25 for check-in fees and then take a taxi to Immigration and then pay them their fees which he estimated at over $100. I opened my wallet and showed him that I only had $75, so that between his fees and the taxi I would not be able to afford everything (I had put the other few hundred that I withdrew in my pocket while still in the bank). After going back in forth directly with him as well as through Juan, the translator, I sat there and asked him what we could do. After maybe 40 minutes of this he said he could charge me the $25 for the check-in fee plus a $50 fine for “pulling up anchor and leaving early” even though he specifically told me he believed me that we were just testing the engine. I couldn’t understand how and why we went back and forth for so long, and he finally told me exactly what I wanted to hear. I paid the money and told him I would be leaving immediately. I still don’t know if he actually believed my story or not, but I most definitely do not care. I gave my translator and guide Juan some money for his help and hurried back to my boat and crew.

We pulled up anchor while I told Shannon the crazy story of my morning, and we were so glad to be finally leaving and headed towards Providencia. Shannon had still not stepped foot on land. We had XX miles to go almost directly east. It was raining as we left, so I stripped down to enjoy a fresh water shower which felt fantastic. We were motoring straight into the wind and waves, but neither were very strong and we hoped these conditions would hold up. It did remain pretty calm for about 6 hours before both the wind and waves picked up. This would have been acceptable, but the scariest part of the trip was that every 10 minutes or so the engine would lose RPM’s, sometimes it would just rev down a little and then return but sometimes it would rev way down so much that it seemed like it was about to conk out. We were headed directly into the wind and had to continue in this direction to get to Providencia or return to back to Nicaragua but our Jib was still ripped so we only had our mainsail and our engine. It was impossible to not literally hold our breaths every time the engine lost RPM’s. We were sure that every time would be the time that the engine would stop.

I was pretty certain that the problem from the previous night was air in the line that I could just not get out, but I couldn’t explain why it started the first time the next morning. I was still pretty sure that their was either air in the line or that I had purchased dirty fuel. I did not want to risk stopping the engine to test anything, so I just kept thinking positive thoughts and picturing how good it was going to feel to finally be dropping anchor in Providencia. Not only had that been the goal for the past 11 days since we left Guanaja, but it was also the rendezvous point we had with the Gualby. We had no idea where the Gualby was at this point, but we could only hope and assume that they had made it because it did no good to think otherwise. This motoring up and down huge waves continued all night. I kept thinking that the engine was going to stop on us, so I altered my course about 20 degrees north so that in the event it did die I would be in a better spot to tack towards Providencia. Late that night we hit a few squalls, and while I was motoring I raised the mainsail in order to keep the boat more stable.

At one point I was heading directly into the strong squall winds and the mainsail was luffing horribly. Shannon was down below trying to get some rest, and I did not want to go up to the foredeck to lower the main in this kind of seas so I just let it luff (this is a rookie mistake and not good for the sail at all). I altered my course a little and pulled the main in tight in order to reduce the luffing but it was still quite strong.

I looked up at one point and noticed to my horror that the main halyard, the line that raises the sail, had come unattached and had run itself up the mast. The sail had luffed so bad that the bolt on the shackle unthreaded itself and came unattached from the sail. I still had maybe 5 hours of motoring into these waves and wind with an engine that sounded like it was going to go at any moment. At this point, with a torn jib and now an unattached mainsail, if the engine died I would have no choice but to basically drift back powerlessly the 100 or so miles to Nicaragua in the middle of the stormy Caribbean sea . We had plenty of water and food, so I wasn’t necessarily in fear for our lives, but it still seemed like a terrible terrible situation to be in. I made a direct heading for Providencia and thought about anything I could to keep my mind occupied. I literally tried to see if I could keep breathing through one of the engine RPM looses, and I physically could not do it, my breathing stopped every time. This went on for hours and even when I could see Providencia I still had more than 2 hours to go.

I noticed on the chart that about a half a mile on the west side of the island there was a point where the depths went from about a thousand feet to just over 100 feet. This became my goal to reach, because between my chain and some spare line I had down below I had enough anchor rode to anchor, albeit poorly, in these depths. If I could just get to this depth, even if the engine died, I could drop my anchor and paddle to the island to get a tow-in. Before this point, if the engine died and no one either sees me or hears us on the radio, we will drift slowly back west.

We miraculously not only made it to this goal point, but we soon found ourselves passing the first set of channel markers and then the next and then the next. For the first time in 11 days we exhaled, we had made it and we were in Providencia, Colombia. I think under normal circumstances we would still think that the island was beautiful, but Providencia looked like the paradise rising out of the sea. As we putted into the channel and were coming around Morgan’s Head into the main anchorage we had but one last worry that was not resolved. We began hailing the Gualby on the VHF, hoping that they had made it ahead of us and were waiting for us. There was no response. According to the charts, there was a cove around the corner that we could not yet see. We turned the corner a bit and still could not see them and they were not responding on the VHF. Finally, we turned a little more and saw the Gualby sitting calmly at anchor waiting for us. The feeling of elation that we were feeling at this point can not easily be expressed in mere words. We had last seen each other 3 days previously, but it seemed like months of some bad times. We pulled up along side her and yelled. Conor and Meghan came outside and we pretty much hooted and hollered and pumped our fists at each other for a few minutes. We dropped anchor, very briefly exchanged our storm stories and then quickly proceeded to pass out cold.
-t

Isla Providencia

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7/13-7/14 Cayo Media Luna to Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua

The next day was actually quite pretty at Media Luna. It turned out that, despite what the chart says, there is no actual dry land, but the protective reef was enough for us. I surveyed the damage of our ripped jib which was not pretty. In fact, rather than trying to take it down and try another, possibly less ripped, spare sail that Conor had, I decided to leave it up and continue using the 20% of it that was still kind of usable. I didn’t think that if I took it down I would be able to get it back up without further damage. We licked our wounds and attempted to dry out our boat for a couple days and then contacted Conor´s parents via the Gualby´s satellite phone for a weather update. The news that we got was not very promising. We were in a tropical wave and it was going to be relatively calm for the next 4 days until it would intensify again on Saturday afternoon. We decided that this reef was good protection but still not completely safe as it was out in the middle of nowhere and that we should try to make it to Providencia before the storms picked back up. We left the morning of July 13 with the hopes that we could sail the rest of the way slowly but without too much more trouble. 

We were still in the area that was “supposedly” quite full of pirates and drug runners, so we were going out of our way to keep close in the hopes that we had strength in numbers. With our remaining jib reefed almost all the way in and the wind coming south of east we were barely making 2 knots and even then not at the heading we needed. Because of all the motoring during the storms of the previous days we barely had any fuel. I estimated that we had between 2 and 3 hours of fuel left, which I was saving in case of further emergencies like a run in with a reef or “suspect vessel”. The Gualby was sticking with our pact to stay together, but at the rate we were going we were not going to make it to Providencia before the storms returned on Saturday afternoon. The two options were to try to tack our way east into the wind or head with the wind to the west directly at Nicaragua to get more fuel. The Gualby had only one option because even if they filled their fuel tanks they would not be able to motor directly east towards Providencia in those waves. They couldn’t afford to give up the eastern headway we had made. We did not have the choice either, as our sail was ripped and we would never be able to make it in time heading east.

After going out of our way and doing our best to stick together for the whole trip (except two days for the Gimpy emergency) we had to make the difficult but inevitable decision to separate. Before we left them we asked Conor to call home to request further information on possible ports in Nicaragua for getting fuel. My dad, who through this whole trip has been the Salty Dog “Base Camp” and done whatever we needed and asked from his computer at home, would have been more than  happy to help us with this information, but I figured I would not let my parents in on the stressful and scary situation we had gotten ourselves into until we were out of it. Conor´s parents were no less worried than mine would have been, but they were at least already aware and they helped us find options. Thanks a million Gorhams…sorry for the stress. While we were less than 50 miles east of Nicaragua at Cabo Gracias de Dios, we did not know if there was anywhere there to get fuel.  We could have made it there by dark relatively easy, and it looked like it would be a place with a fishing industry and therefore diesel. The problem was that the Gorhams did not find anything online that spoke of diesel stations, and if we went there and did not find anything we would be out of luck. There would be nowhere to protect us from the coming storm and we would have to sail east over ground we already made just to continue south.  The closest port with guaranteed fuel unfortunately was Puerto Cabeza, about 90 miles south and west. The downside was that we would have to not only sail close to the mainland the whole way, but we would have to sail right by the Moskito Cayes. The Moskito Cayes were the Cayes that even the less “doom and gloom” cruisers told us to avoid at all costs.  Apparently the Moskitos is where all the drug running boats and pirates stop at on their way up from Colombia. I am not exaggerating the warnings we had been receiving from other cruisers regarding this area for the past months. Of course we had been warned of these dangers from everyone we´ve meet regarding just about everywhere we´ve been. If we´d listened to all the scared people trying to spread their fear we´d never left our couch. Having said that, this particular area was a place we had all agreed to avoid, and it was just the place I had to be.

We wished the Gualby good luck and they did the same, and we watched them sail east as we continued south.  When we changed our heading to just west of south we gained a little bit of speed but not much, maybe 4 knots tops. Within about 2 hours we had dropped to less than a knot. Luckily, the seas were calm but we were for all intents and purposes adrift. We were so tempted to head west and try our luck with the coast but decided not to.  We continued our drifting for the next 10 hours and barely made 20 miles south. We hoped the Gualby was faring better on their passage as they seemed to be making great speed when we separated. Maybe it was because of how helpless I felt adrift off the coast, which was now visible, but I was quite nervous of any boats coming out to us looking for trouble.  I had my machete out and lying on the counter along with my camping knife and a hammer (oh yea…it was that kind of scary).  I also used a sharpie to completely ¨paint” our orange flare gun glossy black in the hopes that I could wave it like a real gun and hopefully look like less of a target. I had way too much time on my hands to scare the crap out of myself and think of terrible scenarios that could go down. I of course had to play down the whole situation so as to not infect my first mate with this fear. I played music, made her laugh, brought her to the bow to watch the sunset, talked about the food we would get when we got to Nicaragua…etc.  Luckily, she is braver than I am, and she handled the whole situation well.

At about 11 o’clock the next morning, during Shannon’s watch, I came up topside to see a storm coming right at us.  I quickly reefed the sail and Shannon took down the clothes that were hung up to dry.  We were soon well heeled over and went from 2 knots to over 7 knots. The storms that we had been battling into were now coming at us beam to so we could sail very fast in the proper direction. I was quite thankful as we soon sailed right up to and then past the Moskito Cayes. The storm kept up for about 90 minutes and we made over 11 miles. We were then within about 15 miles of Puerto Cabeza when the storm died and we were again inching along. I decided that we had enough fuel to motor to Puerto Cabeza and hopefully make it by sunset so that we could quickly get our fuel and slip out of there in time to not have to go through the check-in process with all of its fees.

We motored for about 2 hours with the last of our fuel and approached Puerto Cabeza. On the chart we could see that there was a large pier which we hoped, because it was the only pier on the charts anywhere on the coast, this would be a fishing town and would have a fuel dock. We had heard that Puerto Cabeza was notorious for its difficulty for cruisers with check-in fees and processes. Again, we were hoping to avoid the coming storm which we believed would arrive in less than 48 hours.

-t

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7/10-7/11 Vivorillos to Cayo Media Luna

We still had to sail southeast 250+ miles to make it to Providencia, so we were waiting for east wind so that we would not have to motor.  Unfortunately, there was more southeast wind than direct east wind. We finally got a good day of east wind and decided to leave just before dark on the 10th of July. We headed out again with dreams of a nice easy passage.   Shortly after we left we could see storm clouds and lightning in the distance ,but we hoped that they would pass in front of us before we got to them. The storms did keep off in the distance for longer than it seemed they would, but soon there was a large dark wall of clouds heading right towards us. We had been sailing for just over 8 months since we left and had not yet ran into storm number one, we had barely even had very much rain under sail, so we didn’t really know what to expect. I had read tons of articles and books and blogs and opinions about the subject of storm preparation and storm sailing tactics but until one feels the cold breeze of an approaching squall you have no idea.  

There I was (cliché storm story intro…), about 50 miles north of the Honduran-Nicaraguan border when the wind dropped in temperature and increased in strength. There was not much moonlight out, but you could still tell how much darker the clouds were that were headed straight at us. I started the engine, just in case, and left her in idle. I did not know at the time how strong the winds would get, so I left the full jib out (mistake in hindsight) and since the mainsail was already double-reefed, I left it centered for control. The winds of this first storm were like none we had ever seen. We have been anchored safely during a few northerly fronts back in the Bahamas and Mexico and my wind vane read a speed of 30 knots, which at the time was amazingly strong. Unfortunately, my wind vane stopped working so, I can’t report exactly how strong this wind was. I can tell you that this was so much more than 30 knots that it was more than humbling.  The seas were approximately 10 feet in height (huge and not fun but also not a nightmare for the Salty Dog), but the wind was so strong that the sound changed. There was no more white caps on the top of the water, as it was all pushed down by the wind and the pressure. 

The vibrations of the steel standing rigging played a loud and constant note which further added to the tension of the situation. After what seemed like 30 seconds (this was one of those situations where time doesn’t move the same), I grabbed the jib furling line to reduce the sail from my monstrous 130 genoa. What would normally be a one handed job of pulling the furling line and rolling the sail around the front spreader took not only both hands, but the winch and the handle. I brought in enough sail that I felt much more comfortable. I was not able to exactly relax, but I was able to enjoy the adrenaline that was flowing through my blood and experience the situation for the amazing thing that it was. When after about 45 minutes (or maybe it was 6 hours) later it finally passed, I was soaking wet and I felt like me and my boat were about as invincible as I’d ever felt. I’m not trying to sound like a tough guy but after it passed i was on quite the high…until I looked up at my jib to inspect my repair.

The 15″ or so rip had continued deeper into the sail for about another 15″ until it hit the next panel and then spread vertically down the sail for another 10 feet or so. It was not the sight that I wanted to see when I still had another 220 or so miles to go until we got to Providencia, Colombia, let alone the additional 250+ miles to get to Bocas del Toro, Panama when I had a more realistic chances of getting a professional sail maker to make a professional repair. In hindsight (never a bigger enemy of mine than since I became boat captain), I should have furled the jib in past the furled area at first sign of heavy wind, even without the repair I should not have that much sail out when there is clearly a squall approaching.

The fun and excitement of storm sailing quickly vanished after about the 5th one that we went through in the next 24 hours. We kept trying to make our way to the waypoints which we were supposed to sail to in order to avoid dangerous reefs that were scattered around the area which would be hard enough to see underwater in a clear calm day.  We tried our best to avoid these reefs while making our way east, which seemed almost impossible when the conditions would switch from very, very little wind directly SE, to squalls dead east that would only allow us to travel quickly south. I had to run the motor on and off all night and morning in order to be sure to make it around said reefs. The little bit of fuel I had was going much quicker than I could afford. The Gualby was having just as much trouble as us, and we decided that we were not going to make it to Providencia at this rate when we kept getting bombarded with storms.  

Conor has a satellite phone on his boat and we decided to call his parents to see what kind of weather situation we were in and whether it was going to improve enough for us to continue this slow progress. We found out that the seas were projected to be a constant 10′-12′ with 20+ winds from the ESE direction where we had to go. We both agreed that, with my torn sail and low fuel and his inability to motor directly into moderate waves, let alone large waves , we had to change our plans. At the point we were at we had very few options of where to go. We could sail with the wind back towards the coast of Nicaragua for Cabo Gracias a Dios (named by Christopher Columbus after he finally made it around the same point we had been struggling with…true story) except that we didn’t know anything about the area and we had been warned by everyone since we left about the coast of Nicaragua and its pirates. Apparently the entire coast of Nicaragua is riddled with drug runners and pirates, and everyone is advised to avoid it at all costs. We ourselves had tried to stay as far from the coast as possible (30+ miles even when making the turn south) and were traveling at night without our running lights on in order to be more inconspicuous. The place we had been warned about the most was Cayos Miskitos which was a small grouping of islands, almost an atoll, about 100 miles south of Cabo Gracias a Dios.  

The other option we had was an extremely small horseshoe-shaped reef which, according to the charts, had an extremely small island named Cayo Media Luna. Conor had read in a cruising guide somewhere that Media Luna provided some protection in bad weather from the east, an understatement at the time in our opinion. In order to get to Media Luna we had to motor directly into the wind for 15 miles. The salt in this wound was that if we would have made our decision a few hours earlier we could have altered our course and sailed directly at Media Luna without the aid of any motors (see what I mean about hindsight). As previously mentioned the Gualby needed to tack into the wind and could not motor directly at Media Luna. Due to our ripped jib, we could not tack and had to motor directly into the, at this point,  10′+ waves and burn what little fuel we had left. Because of all the known and unknown dangers of traveling in this manner, in this part of the world, with this limited experience we had a deal with the Gualby that we would stay together (within visual range, or radio range at least) for the whole trip no matter what. It made us both feel safer in case who knows what happened, and it was way more fun to pass the time on our watches BS-ing with each other on the handheld radio.   

We figured that while we would be taking different routes towards Media Luna, we would still be within radio range and would meet back up again when we got there. With 15 nautical miles to go and an average speed of about 5 knots (nautical miles/hr) at cruising RPM, we would normally make it there in about 3 hours. Not 30 minutes after we turned, another storm came. The winds in this one were as strong, if not stronger than the ones we had been getting hit with for the past 18 or so hours.  I knew that we wouldn’t make it with the normal cruising power, so I increased from 18k to 23k and could still barely maintain 3-4 knots. We were going up 10 foot waves and crashing into the face of the next one. I didn’t exactly know how much fuel we had left, but I knew that at this high throttle we were burning it fast. I knew I just needed to get to Media Luna as soon as possible and the wind was doing its best to keep us from getting there. I had to keep the bow headed directly into the wind the whole time, otherwise the wind would blow us to one side or another very quickly, and it would take a lot of power to get back on course. Shannon was up in the cockpit with me, both of us in our foul-weather gear and both of us with our harnesses firmly attached to the boat, but we had long since put Admiral Gimpy down below to stay (relatively) dry.  

At one point we heard a loud crashing sound behind us, and I turned around startled. I couldn’t tell what had happened. I thought maybe a large wave had crashed on our stern somehow. I told Shannon, “don’t worry, it was probably just a wave”, and I resumed steering.  Then she said in a startled voice “the outboard!” I looked back again and realized that the outboard engine was no longer mounted on the railing and a broken mount remained in its place. The slamming of the boat up and down had broken the mount which was bolted to the stern railing and our $900 outboard was sinking thousands of feet to become our most expensive offering to Poseidon. The worst part is that I almost always had it locked to the railing as well with an old bike lock ,which would have saved it from falling all the way in, apparently today I had not done this. I did the only thing I could do in this situation, I yelled a few choice 4-letter words and kept steering. Besides that, we didn’t really have a very drastic reaction. After everything that had and was happening it just didn’t seem very important of an event. Shannon was aboard, Gimpy was aboard, and the mast was still sticking up and not down…bases covered.  We motored our way to within about 2 miles of Media Luna according to our chart. In normal conditions we could have seen any island way before that, but all we could see was a fishing boat out there in the mess with us.

Even with the weather as bad as it was we should have been able to see land by then. We came up upon the fishing boat and realized that we were indeed at Media Luna and that the fishing boat was anchored behind the reef. While we were approaching, in our exhaustion we were perhaps a little too excited to drop our anchor when we saw the captain of the fishing boat waving at us to stop. Shannon went up to the bow and we noticed that we almost ran smack into some coral.  We drifted back a little and dropped our anchor right there. The exhale of relief we let out could have probably been heard by our friends adjacent.  After everything we had been through, we were glad to just shut the motor off finally and untense our muscles. 
 
At this point we had probably not seen the Gualby in 4 or 5 hours and we were both sure that, judging by the trouble we had, they would never be able to motor to meet us and if they were tacking and sailing it would take many, many hours.  Unfortunately, our VHF radio antennae is not as strong as it was when we left and our radio range for sending a message is probably 5 miles. We can however hear them from maybe 15 miles away so we listened to see if they would update us on where they are. Honestly, we were ready to hear them tell us that they could not make it and that they would be heading to the Nicaraguan coast. I paddled our kayak the 100 feet over to the neighboring fishing boat, and they let me try and hail the Gualby on their VHF, to no avail. The guys on this boat couldn’t have been nicer and even gave me a bag full of lobsters that were apparently too short to sell (illegal but delicious nonetheless). I paddled back to the Salty Dog, dried off and crashed.

I awoke probably 4 hours later and the fishing boat was leaving. They told us that they would leave their VHF on our station and relay any message they heard.  Not 20 minutes later they came back on the radio to let us know that they thought they saw our friends. The Gualby motored in about 30 minutes after that with the same look on their faces that we had earlier that day when we dropped anchor. We congratulated each other on making it and all sleep like dead dogs that night.

-t

Surveying the torn jib (photo courtesy of M. Gorham)

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7/5-7/10 Trip from Guanaja, Honduras to Vivorillos & Vivorillos

We stayed in Guanaja for almost a month waiting for the perfect weather window.  We had to head almost due east (slightly south) to get to our next stop which is Isla Vivorillos, Honduras. Vivorillos is 150 nuatical miles away at the northeast corner of Honduras,offshore of the border between Honduras and Nicaragua. We sat in the anchorage of Guanaja and met some really good people and had some good times but we were all really itching to leave and it seemed that whenever we would see a weather window with little or no east wind, to our dismay, it would disappear pretty quickly.

Finally we saw a weather window with 2 to 3 days of light east wind and small seas (under 3 ft). Since this time of year the trade winds blow directly from east and rarely let up we had already resigned ourselves to the fact that we would not be able to sail east and that we would have to use our motors. Between our increasing desire to get moving, our knowledge that the heart of hurricane season was getting ever closer, and the fact that this was the first realistic window since we arrived we decided to take it. The plan was to leave Guanaja on the morning of July 5. We spent the 4th of July on the island near Grahams place with an epic bocce game that properly honored our founding fathers.

We awoke the morning of the 5th and headed out the cut to the open sea for the first time in a long time. The winds were about what we were expecting, maybe a little stronger, but the seas were not nearly as calm as predicted. We were thinking less than 3 feet and this was more like 4 or 5 foot. The Salty Dog can motor straight into waves like these with little or no problem, but the Gualby has outboard motors which raise out of the water and cavitate when the seas are larger than a few feet.  We decided to play it safe and turn around back to Guanaja after less than an hour of heading into the waves. We were all quite disappointed since we knew it had been awhile since we had seen a weather window like this and that it could be weeks or months until we see another. We headed back in and decided to wait it out and see if it got any better as time passed. We dropped anchor and all went back to sleep for a few hours. We awoke about 4 hours later to slightly better conditions and discussed our options. Fortunately or unfortunately for them, the decision to try again was on the Gualby because of their limitations in this particular situation. Conor and Meghan decided to try it out again if we agreed to tack into the wind, in a zig zag pattern, and not head directly into the wind. This way the wind would help us both out some and take some work off the engines and alleviate some of their cavitating. Because we were zig zagging it would be a longer distance and therefore take longer to get there. We figured that even with tacking we would have enough time during the weather window to make it to Vivorillos before the wind starting really picking up again. We estimated that the trip would take about 30 hours and that now it would take closer to 48.
       
We headed back out and were doing fine for awhile. The wind however did begin to pick up stronger than predicted and worse still it came out of the ESE which is where we were trying to head. We spent the next 45 hours trying to figure out the best angle to take that we could keep our sails full and also not have to head directly into the seas. Because we were headed so close to the wind our jib was luffing a lot. We kept trying to adjust to prevent this but with the winds like they were it was a constant battle. The engine ran constantly and we used almost 40 of the 55 gallons that we had left with that was supposed to get us all the way to Providencia. We knew that we could not refuel in Vivorillos as it is an uninhabited island used primarily for fishing boats to take cover at during their long trips. We were not too worried about the fuel situation since the Guanaja to Vivorillos trip was the only directly east stretch of the journey and with straight east winds we figured we could sail the remaining 250 miles southeast to Providencia, Colombia with no problem. The morning of July 7th we finally spotted land and as the sun came up i also spotted a tear in our jib about 15 inches long where it had chaffed against the top spreader while it was luffing. This was quite disheartening so I furled the sail in until it was past the tear. We pulled into Vivorillos completely sleep deprived and beaten with a torn sail but thankful that we made it across what everyone had told us would be the hardest passage of the trip to Panama.

Besides being a sight for our sore eyes after a rough passage,  Vivorillos was quite beautiful in its own right. It consists of two main islands, the larger of the two containing the shell of an old building and a beach with hundreds of lobster traps.  The second largest island has a few, small, roughly-built shelters/campsites where the fishermen clean conch and lobster.  Both islands are about half vegetation and half sandy beach.  There are a number of much smaller islands at the north end, all connected by a protective reef. 

We went to shore on the larger island and could tell that it had not been long since fishermen had been there when we found the remains of a nurse shark that had been cleaned and apparently eaten. The water and reef were beautiful, and we spent the day relaxing and catching up on our much needed sleep.  We went to sleep the night of the 7th as the only boats in sight and awoke the next morning with 3 or 4 fishing boats anchored all around us, including one directly in front of the Gualby. Whether it was the the 20 or so fishermen staring at us the whole time or the toilet seat suspended off the back of the boat 40 feet from the Gualby, we decided to move closer to the smaller island. By late morning there were dozens of dugout canoes each filled with one or two fishermen spread out for miles around the entire reef.  The men were collecting conch and lobster and were so productive that we worried there would be none left for us, especially since we were dead in the middle of their hunting grounds.  

Shannon and I dropped the jib and I repaired the rip the best I could. I have a sail repair kit, and I did some of the sewing with the needles and palm leather.  After breaking all but one of my needles, I borrowed an awl and some sail tape from Conor.  I sewed it up with a lockstitch to the best of my abilities, and while my mother would be proud of the work, I could only hope that it would be strong enough to withstand the next 500 miles.

The weather was sunny for the first day but cloudy and rainy every late afternoon and evening.  We swam and took Gimpy to shore every day and let her stretch her legs, which were just as glad to feel dry land as ours were.  As per usual, on a deserted island Admiral Gimpy could not go very far so we let her run around without her leash. She was running around with Penny and Bubby having a great time while we looked for shells.  In the center of the island is a large patch of chest-high bushes which are completely filled with birds. There were so many that we avoided a whole stretch  of beach on the opposite side in fear that we would get pooped on. At one point Gimpy took off into the bushes after a couple baby birds and we grabbed her just in time. Her whole life she has chased after birds, and squirrels, and other animals which she rarely caught, and if she did she didn’t know what to do with them.  We yelled at her for running away and then corralled her back to the canoes.  We were about halfway back, and we turned our heads for just a second and Gimpy went darting into the bushes. 

We spent the next 45 minutes yelling for Gimpy, avoiding stepping on baby birds, dodging angry momma birds and finding a few baby birds that Gimpy had killed.  (I like to think that she was just playing too hard with them and they died, but a part of me thinks she might have just had some bloodlust in her Gimpy little heart that she couldn’t contain anymore.)   Conor finally found her and I carried her back to the canoe by her scruff and yelled in her face louder and meaner than I ever have in our relationship (I also like to think that she was even a little sorry, but for everyone who knows Gimpy….well you know).

We spent three days in Vivorillos, and we were on one hand dreading making the next passage because of how tough the last one was, but on the other hand we knew we needed to keep moving and get to Panama.
-t

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Howler Monkeys Video

Although you cannot see the howler monkeys very clearly in this video, you can clearly hear what they sound like.

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Honduras Underwater Video

This was filmed in Utila, Cayos Cochinos, and Guanaja, Honduras.

Honduras Underwater from salty dog on Vimeo.

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6/11-6/29 Guanaja & Graham’s Place, Honduras-waiting on a weather window

The wind won’t quit blowing very strong from the east, so we have been hanging out in Guanaja, Honduras for over two weeks. El Bite is the place we have been anchoring when the wind is blowing really strong. But, when the wind calms down a little we head one mile east to our preferred spot, Graham’s Place on Josh’s Cay.

Graham’s Place is the perfect place to honeymoon, vacation, etc. We are fortunate that we get to wait out a weather window here. There is a white sandy beach, clear water, peacocks and pelicans walking around, and a parrot named Papito that says hola, hello, que paso, and sings songs in Spanish. Plus, there is free potable water and ice (clear gold), and trash disposal. It is a gem, and Graham himself could not be any more accommodating to us. The only downside to Graham’s Place is that it costs $10 USD to wash, not dry, one load of laundry. This is not on the budget, so needless to say, we have a laundry situation. There are about 3 clothing classifications on board right now-clean, salty armpit stank that requires hefty deodorant application in order to wear, and burnable..seriously, burnable.

To get groceries and other supplies we have to make a long dinghy trip or tie the Salty Dog up to the public dock in Bonacca Town, about a 1/2 mile away from El Bight. Therefore, we don’t go into town that often. Also, although Bonacca is called the Venice of Honduras, it is not the coolest town we have been to. I should have figured-I didn’t really think Venice was that great. The roads are so tiny (think sidewalks) that bicycles are not even allowed. People have to walk everywhere, which is great. Unfortunately, the town feels a little…dirty. I probably think this because most of the homes and businesses are over the water, which means most things from these homes and businesses end up in the water. I’ve seen a lot of disturbing things floating by while docked at the city dock. Not that Key Biscayne is any cleaner, or that I haven’t swam in some pretty sketchy water, but I haven’t swam near Bonacca and I don’t plan on it.

Overall, I am enjoying this relaxing time. I know I will not always have the time to stare at stars and loose myself in book after book. To say that we have been taking it easy is an understatement. We do a lot of baking-bread, cookies, pizza, muffins, etc., guitar playing, swashbucklin’ (swapping downloaded movies with the Gualby), yoga, snorkeling, spearfishing, kayaking, and playing board games. We have had one lionfish fry on the Salty Dog, and I hope we have a couple more before we leave. These are my thoughts as of 6/27. Ted has some as well…
-S

We have been waiting in Guanaja, Honduras for the winds to die down. We need to head just about dead east from here but the winds have been blowing either east or east southeast for the past 18 days without very much relief. In fact we have been anchored in winds well over 30 knots almost every night. We have already resigned ourselves to the fact that we will have to be motoring into the wind in order to get to the island of Vivorillos. The seas have been kicked up to over 8 feet on some days and we haven’t even been in the position to consider leaving since we arrived here.

We see a weather window that as of today (6/29) the winds are projected to be under 8 knots and therefore a perfect window for us to head east. The problem with these predictions is that twice now we have seen these supposed windows and then by the time that day comes around the weather changes completely. We definitely feel “stuck” here in the sense that we have no choice, but we agree that we could be “stuck” in worse places.

Bonnaca town, the populated area here where we can get our food, water, and fuel is densely populated and there do not seem to be any bars that are tempting to patronize. In fact, it doesn’t seem like a place where you want to be at night and where there doesn’t seem much of a reason to be out at night anyway. There are good and cheap vegetables to be purchased if you go on the right day at the right time. We also purchase homemade tortillas, rum , credit for our wireless internet modem, as well as 3 for $5 DVDs.

When we aren’t going to town for the day to resupply we are on the boat in one of two anchorages: El Bight, which has good land protection from the wind and waves, and Graham’s Place off of Josh Cay, where the water is clear and the bottom sandy and there is decent protection from the wind. El Bight has a muddier bottom which seems to be sufficient holding, but the water is a little murkier and not as inviting to swim in. Graham’s place, apart from offering free unlimited water and ice, also has a great beach which is perfect for not only walking the dogs but also the occasional impromptu bocce game.

Last week Meghan’s aunt and two cousins came to visit. They were on a medical humanitarian trip to mainland Honduras and were able to spend a couple days snorkeling and visiting with us. Her aunt was generous enough to buy us dinner at Graham’s place the night before they left, and we had a great time (thanks again Travers!).

We spent the first two weeks here snorkeling and kayaking all around, but for the past 3 or 4 days we have been just hanging out in the boats trying to keep out of the sun. The wind is too strong to really leave the boats at night anyway, but we are enjoying just relaxing together and reading a ton of books. We watch the occasional DVD as well or play a game of scrabble. Today we got together with the Gualby for a killer game of spades (it got the feeling today’s game was just the start of a long spades tradition). I have read about 4 books in the past 7 days. Sometimes I try to work on a new video or blog entry for SaltyDogSailboat.com (like right now while my beautiful wife makes me some delicious Picadillo de la Gringa).

It’s nice to just relax for a little bit. Traveling like we have been doing for the past 7+ months has been amazing and a million times more exciting than a full time job, but it hasn’t been nearly as relaxing as I thought before this trip began. Again, cruising is great but it seems like much of the time we are expending quite a bit of energy going about day to day life, but right now we are more than making up for it with all the lounging. Shannon has baked some delicious bread and with the access to veggies and meat we have been having a great time cooking dinner every night.

About our biggest responsibility every day is to bring Admiral Gimpy to shore to do her business. For this task we have the option to dinghy her in, paddle her in on the kayak, or paddle her in on the surfboard…all options have their appropriate time of day. Sometimes we feel guilty about being so lethargic, but then we have to remind ourselves that we aren’t going to have very many opportunities in our lives to just chill out all day.
- t

This dolphin hangs out so close to our boat that while inside we can hear him coming up for air throughout the day

We still don't understand why everyone lives on this tiny island (Bonacca Town) and not the main island

Dunbar Rock

Getting ready for lobster season to open up

View of Bonacca Town from where the Salty Dog docks for grocery/rum runs

Looking peaceful before Adm. Gimpy chased it all over the island

Anchored outside of Graham's Place

Cloudy days are perfect days for bocce

Dinghying into the beach to play bocce

Victorious

Afternoon walk

Banana Trees

Gimp always leads the way

View of the Salty Dog in El Bite

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6/10 Passage to Guanaja, Honduras-Swimming in 3000+ feet of water

We left Cayos Cochinos 6 a.m. knowing that there wouldn’t be much wind and that we would have to motor to Guanaja. There was not a breathe of wind, so the iron jib (a.k.a.-the engine) was in full effect. A little bit of wind gives you the glimmer of hope that you can sail, but you inevitably luff everywhere despite how many times you cuss at the wind and try to trim the sails. So absolutely no wind, while heading in the direction the wind had been blowing strongly from for the past 3 months, was optimal.

After motoring for a few hours, Conor had the idea of killing the engines and swimming around for awhile. At 9:45 a.m. the crews of the Salty Dog and the Gualby completed their first ever open-ocean Voltron formation. Meg volunteered to go up the mast of the Gualby to document the event. We remained in formation for about an hour. Swimming, diving, cannonballing off the top of the Gualby, and trying out some underwater synchronized swimming moves. None of us could get over how far the visibility was underwater. If anything was down there and decided to come our way, we would have seen it coming a mile away. At least that was our hope. Just in case, we didn’t put Admiral Gimpy in the water. We did have one scare when Meghan thought she saw something in the water. We skimmed across the top of the water in a flash back to the boats. We all looked around for a few minutes carefully before we decided to jump back in.

The rest of the trip we relaxed and enjoyed the scenery. On this day in particular the sky was extraordinarily clear and there were cumulus clouds fixed directly above the islands. It looked like a Bob Ross painting with “happy little clouds”. These clouds made us think of how explorers back in the day use to look for these clouds, as well as birds, logs, etc. to locate land. It was a really fun 10-hour trip.

The wind started blowing strong from the east as soon as we approached El Bight-the common anchorage in Guanaja. Perfect timing. A dolphin greeted us as we were dropping the anchor and swam oddly close to our boat all night. I could hear him repeatedly surfacing to breathe while I was making dinner. After a day at the anchorage, I soon realized that we weren’t special and this dolphin frequented all the boats of the anchorage, all of the time. Rumor has it that he was released from captivity, so he likes hearing human voices. Who knows?

Our plan is to hang out in Guanaja and wait for a lull in the wind and/or wind blowing in any direction but east. We know this could be a while, because the tradewinds always blow from the east this time of year. Our weather window will come, and when it does our plan is to sail east to the island of Vivorillos, then southeast to Providencia, and then on to Panama to wait out hurricane season.
~S

Early morning preparation

Always welcome

No wind. No swell.

Cleaning up the laundry on deck to prepare for Meg's aerial footage

Getting ready to crank Meg up the mast

Meg being a badass

The water was eerily calm and clear

Ted is about 30 feet below

Meg's View of the Salty Dog and the Gualby

Swimming

Shan Swimming

Happy Little Clouds

Coming atcha Guanaja

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6/8-6/9 Cayos Cochinos, Honduras

We were exiting the reef pass around 8:15 a.m., and were so excited to be heading to Cayos Cochinos. The wind was blowing pretty strong from the west, so we had a beautiful 4-hour sail. Ted did some much needed blogging while Gimpy and I sat at the helm butchering Beatles songs. As soon as we approached Cayos Cochinos, I realized why the ex-pat in Utila compared these islands to Tahiti. They reeked of the South Pacific. The islands consist of steep hills (mountains if you are from Florida) covered in jungle and are surrounded by crystal clear, deep blue-colored water with coral, sponge, turtles, fish and who knows what else, living within. There were no other boats there. We picked up a mooring ball (a bleach bottle), and Ted dove 45 feet to check out the mooring. Yep, 45-feet. I had to hear that number several times the next couple of days. As soon as Ted got back on deck we had several visitors in dugout canoes paddle out to us. One boy wanted to know if we wanted a tour to the lighthouse. One gentleman wanted to sell us black coral (illegal) earrings and tiny lobster (also illegal). We told the boy that we might like to go on his tour tomorrow, and we somehow managed not to buy anything from the very persistent, illegal products salesman.

We paddled to the beach to check it out. The beach was filled with all kinds of smooth rocks and sea glass. It was very cool. We left to go snorkel some areas that a young guy named Rio whose dad owned a good portion of the island told us to check out. As soon as we got to one of the areas Ted jumped out, popped back up and told me to hand him golden rod. He had spotted a lionfish. I looked around in the kayak and golden rod was nowhere to be found. We paddled back to the beach to where we thought we left it. It wasn’t there. We paddled back to the Salty Dog to see if maybe we just left it on the deck. It wasn’t there either. Ted swam around the boat for a little bit, said…”ohhh shit”, dove under the water, and then I saw golden rod pierce through the surface of the water. The water was so clear that Ted could see the pole spear 45 feet below. We were so glad we didn’t lose it. We paddled over to where we knew it was around 10-20 feet and snorkeled for a long time. We saw a menacing looking moray eel, yellow snapper, and small reef fish. There weren’t many big fish hanging around. But, it was pretty.

Earlier, Rio had recommended going with Roger, the boy who paddled to our boat, on a hike to the lighthouse because Roger would be able to point out all sorts of wildlife that we wouldn’t see if we went by ourselves. We paddled into shore, found Roger, and set up a tour for 7 a.m. the following morning. The day ended with great food and drinks with everyone.

The hike to the lighthouse with Roger was well worth $5 per person. He was 15-years old and didn’t speak English, but we were able to get by with our Spanish. Also, when someone points to a pink boa, you get it. We saw seven pink boas. They were only a little bit pink, and some were more pink than others. The boas don’t blend in well with their surroundings, but none of us were able to spot a boa before Roger pointed them out, and we tried really hard. Supposedly this is the only island that has pink boas. We also saw several different types of palm trees, scorpions, crabs, and hummingbirds. Roger said tarantulas and pigs were on the island as well, but we didn’t see any.

Climbing up to the lighthouse was definitely the highlight of the tour for me. I look calm in the picture below with Ted and I at the top of the lighthouse, but I have to confess, I had sweaty palms and a death grip on Ted, or the lighthouse, at all times. I definitely have a fear of heights that I’m trying to conquer.

The climb up to the lighthouse would have made a claustrophobic person freak out. The lighthouse was very narrow and you could only go to the top by climbing a ladder that went straight up-no spiral staircase. Also, it was swaying…considerably, and there were 9 of us on the top. But, the view was totally worth it. We hiked back and ate a fruit that I can’t remember the name of that tasted like a pear. It was a great morning.

After lunch, we paddled to Cayo Pequeno, the second largest island in the Cayos. It was a far paddle, at some points we thought the island was moving farther away from us. But, the wind was barely blowing so it wasn’t too tough. We walked the beach and snorkeled. It was beautiful. That night we went to the bar on the island to check on the weather and to celebrate our last night with the Stray Cat. We had an awesome time and wished each other safe sailing (we’ll miss you Romos).

Cayos Cochinos is probably a mission to get to if you don’t have your own boat, but I think it is a must stop for anyone headed to the Bay Islands of Honduras. It is one, if not the most beautiful cluster of islands we have seen on this trip. We could have easily spent 2 weeks or more here, but we had to get moving because of the weather. It was beautiful-the hiking, the wildlife, the water, the snorkeling, the sunsets, the lack of bugs, the absence of other gringos, etc. The pictures below say it better than I.
~S

Gaining on the Gualby and the Stray Cat

Ted, Con, Bryan, and Richard

Hiking

Scorpion Lair

Pink Boa

Another Pink Boa

View of our boats and Cayo Pequeno from the top of the lighthouse

Roger picking out his sled

Roger preparing for takeoff

Jungle Sledding

Paddling around coral surrounding Cayo Pequeno

Cayo Pequeno

Gimp staring at the coral

Gimpy and Bubby exploring Cayo Pequeno

Slipper Lobster-found by Richard

Cayo Grande

Paddling back to Cayo Grande

Heading back to Cayo Grande

Salty Dog

Gualby picked the perfectly located mooring

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