French Harbor

 

January 27, 2003. French Harbor, Roatan, Honduras.

N 16 deg. 21′ 12″
86 deg. 26′ 38″

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We stayed in Caribbean Bight for 4 days, waiting for a front to pass and rain and wind to calm down. Then, last Monday, we made the 4 miles jaunt to French Harbor where most cruisers are anchored. There is about 15 boats here. The harbor is pretty, a yacht club provides good shore access to dingies and the supermarket is 5 minutes away and has a good selection of fresh vegetables at least once a week (including real leaf lettuce and eggplants!). No wonder cruisers like it here.

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The first couple of days here were sunny and we hurried up to complete our outdoor projects while it lasted. We expected that if it started to rain again, it would be for 3 days at least. Clark re-sealed the mast boot and re-caulked the front hatch plexiglass to reduce leaking inside the boat when it rains hard or we get green water onboard while sailing. He repaired the mainsail jacklines which had chafed through and the rain collection spouts on the sun awning which the wind had half ripped away. We had another couple of rainy days since then but rain is tapering off significantly. The cold fronts do not stall over the Bay Islands anymore but instead move through quickly towards the south, or move east from Mexico to the Atlantic without passing by the Bay Islands.

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Coxen’s Hole

We have visited the towns of French Harbor and Coxen Hole and have walked nearly everyday to the supermarket. I shopped for fruits and vegetables with delight and we have been eating green salads almost every sunny days since then. Coxen Hole is the main town of Roatan and boasts the worst potholes in its gravel roads. It is not pretty but it has the only cash machine of the island, the biggest supermarket, the ferry terminal, the port captain and immigration. The town of French Harbor is smaller and not much prettier. The tourists usually stay in West End, a resort town on the north coast of Roatan, where our boat would not find good protection from the northers associated with cold fronts. There seems to be a large population of expatriates leaving here, all conversing on VHF channels which is cheaper than the telephone. When Mount Calabash is calling Mango Creek, we quickly learned, it has nothing to do with cruisers.

We have done laundry again and finally managed to get to the bottom of the laundry bag. Clark has also been helping a neighbor boat with big alternator problems. Yesterday was the Superbowl, the biggest American football game of the season and we all went to the Yacht Club to watch it, or to watch the most expensive commercials of the year (2 millions for 30 seconds), or to meet other cruisers and chat over 2 for 1 beers and free popcorn.

We plan to leave the boat here for a few days while we take a trip to the mainland to visit the Mayan ruins of Copan. It should be a fun trip.

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Caribbean Bight

1-16-2003

Caribbean Bight, Roatan Honduras

N 16 22 54 Overcast with a bit of sun peaking through 80F
W 86 23 14 Light wind no waves in this harbor

 

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Port Royal anchorage in the sun

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… and with rain coming

We have been heading north for the last month or so and have reached Honduras as you know. What we didn’t know was it is winter up here. We sort of forgot about seasons while we were on the equator. Had we known what we were getting into, we might have waited January and February in Panama. However, locals say the weather we are experiencing now is abnormally rainy even for winter. We have just spent a week in our boat waiting for good weather. We have been hit by non-stop cold fronts coming down from the US and stalling over us. Each only dissipates when the next moves in. That has made for a week of rain but until last night not much wind. Last night we got wind. And the wind came from the Southwest! The forecasts called for North or North East winds so when we started getting the SW wind we found our nice anchorage to be a lee shore. In fact we were right on the shore with Temptress’ stern no more then 20 yards from the shore. The wind started blowing stronger and stronger and the waves started to build. The bay is really wide and the waves inside the bay were building very high by the time they got to our position on the East side. At 10pm we decided this was no longer safe and we decided to move. Problem is this bay didn’t really offer any place with protection from the SW that had a good bottom shallow enough to anchor in. Leaving the bay and passing through the reef at night in high winds and waves was nothing we wanted to try and we certainly didn’t want to try to enter another bay at night in these conditions so we would have to spend the night in the storm at sea. We decided to try a location with marginal protection if we pulled right in close to a shore that we had no charted depth for. It was risky but we had to do something.

We motored up to the anchor and found that our little engine was just up to making forward progress against the wind. It took a little while for Birgitta to learn how to keep the bow in the strong wind and not let the boat “get away” when a wind shift pushed the bow down. We brought the anchor up and started to make way across the bay. The wind was still building and was now blowing from 30 to 35 knots with gusts to 40 knots. We were in such a hurry to get away from our anchorage we still had our awning up and were towing our dingy which was half full of water. With the engine at full we were making about 2.5 knots into the wind and waves. After a bit of motoring I looked back and couldn’t see our dingy. It had sunk and we were towing it under water with it’s bow down like a 12 foot long fishing lure. I couldn’t take the time to bail it out nor could I probably be able to do it in the conditions. We might have lost the yacht onto the shore in the time we would have to drift downwind while I dealt with the dingy. So I just tied the dingy line up real short to a high point on the back of the yacht and towed it with it’s bow held out of the water. This worked very well and by the time we were at our destination about half of the water had drained over the transom, but I was very concerned about destroying the dingy. The portaboat that we use doesn’t look like the strongest thing on the water but in made it through the trip unscathed. I was also concerned about loosing it to a broken tow line, but neither thing happened and we still have the little boat (and it is really clean). Luckily when the last heavy rain passed us I remembered our dingy sinking in the San Blas islands so we removed the outboard engine and I even closed the vent on the fuel tank and removed the bailer. The oars are locked in to thwart thieves so they all stayed with the dingy throughout its trip and we didn’t appear to loose anything.

After about an hour of motoring we arrived at the other side of the bay. The awning was acting a bit like a sail and we were worried that it might rip. We started to get closer and closer to the shore and finally the waves died down as we got some protection from the land. A bit further in and the wind abated just a bit and we were still in 25 feet of water. I started dropping the anchor close enough to the shore that I could hear a little water fall crashing into the bay beside me. While I was letting out anchor rode the yacht was still moving forward a bit and we found our selves in six and a half feet of water (only one foot of water under the keel). It was not reassuring to know the yacht could swing into such shallow water given a change in wind direction. But when we settled on the hook we were in deep water and at least somewhat protected from the waves. We stayed up for a while bailing the dingy and removing the awning and as the anchor was holding we tried to go to sleep. By now it was about 12:15 (way past our bed times) and I set an alarm to get me up every hour or so so I could keep an eye on changes. The wind could change direction. More to the south and we would be back in waves. If it were to swing to the North East, like it was forecast to, we would find ourself on the beach with our position and the amount of chain we had out. Everything stayed fine until 2am when the wind started to drop.

In the morning we listened to the weather report and it confirmed that a weak front had just passed over us. It still called for a strong front to pass over us (or stall I expect) in 2 days and we didn’t want to be in this situation again so we decided to continue down the island to a smaller more sheltered bay to wait out the next front. We got the boat ready and motored out through the reef and found really high steep waves from the wind last night. We had to motor into them for about two and a half hours making very bad speed. We couldn’t really sail because we needed to travel right into the wind and waves and we wanted to get what little protection we could get from the land. Sailing would mean tacking up wind and we would have to get more sea room for that. We just had to keep plowing into the waves which were so big and steep the we were dipping the bow into the bigger ones. We had rivers of water running down the deck from our bow dips and once we actually picked up a fish and saw it on the deck headed for the scuppers.

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Well, we arrived here in Caribbean Bight at about noon today. This is a nice little bay which should provide us with much better protection should anything nasty be thrown at us by the next front. We haven’t decided if we will stay here or move on to French Harbor tomorrow if we have time before the next front comes. French Harbor appears to be nicely protected and it is the second-biggest town on the Island. We plan to spend quite a bit of time there and leave the boat there when we travel inland in Honduras. But just knowing we are in a safe place makes us feel better. We took a dingy ride through a really nice canal to the next bay and looked around, then continued to the next bay by running behind the reef and then to the next. You can move up and down the coast of Roatan by little boat without having to go outside the reefs much. This is the only real road on this part of the island and people go everywhere by small boat. Problem is it is much too shallow for the yacht. I hit the outboard on the bottom several times today as it is.

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We are now back on the boat having naps and enjoying the one day with no rain we have seen this week.

Roatan, Honduras

January 13, 2003. Roatan, Honduras.

We finally got a few partly sunny days in Guanaja! We went out to a tiny privately owned island with our friends from sv Zia Lucia. The owner had built it into a small resort for his kids with a couple of houses for the families, a bar/restaurant, plenty of picnic tables (including some placed in a shallow lagoon so you can eat with your legs in the water), caged parrots and deer, and a large aquarium right in the shallow water next to the pier with turtles, sharks and many fishes. When his kids are not visiting, the bar/restaurant is open to tourists and we had lunch there before going diving on the reef. During the dive, we saw many fishes, some quite large, and David caught a superb snapper (“pagre” in french). He offered me a fillet for diner which was delicious. Unfortunately, while I cooked my fish, I accidentally put sour salt instead of meat tenderizer on Clark’s steak. It made for a very lemony and odd steak.

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Clark continued to do maintenance work, dealing with the computer one more time and repairing the bilge pump switch. I made a quite decent bread and experimented with a couple recipe for cake frosting. I became sort of a prisoner of the boat because, when the wind became light, the no-see-ums flew to the boat and attacked me voraciously. With all the screens up and burning some repellent coils regularly, we can keep the boat cabin clear of the bugs so I remain safe inside. But one afternoon of reading in the hammock on deck got me covered with large itchy welts which last a long time. It also seems that my skin reacts more strongly now than the first time so that the swelling around each bite reaches the size of a quarter. I have to rub them with cortisone several time a day to avoid scratching my skin till it bleeds.

Sunday, we motorsailed to the next island in the Bay Island chain, called Roatan, hoping for less bugs. The batteries appreciated the charging associated with the long motoring as it is difficult to keep them fully charged when it is cloudy with variable wind. Since we are in January, even when it is sunny, the sun is not high and strong enough to provide excess power.

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Like Guanaja, Roatan is green and hilly, and sparsely inhabited. It is supposed to be more tourists-oriented but since we have not reached the main town yet, we have not seen signs of it. We stopped in a harbor called Port Royal which has a few houses on shore and an abandoned boat charter base. There is a large compound on one small island within the harbor including a three boat boathouse (instead of a three car garage) and an helicopter pad. There does not appear to be a road circling the island and the local traffic uses the waterways. Canals have been dug between harbors to allow the small motorboats to move from harbor to harbor, within the protection of the reef. Our guide book is pretty old and, at the recommendation of the author, we anchored in a nice spot, which unfortunately is right next to the opening of one of the new canals. So we get quite a bit of traffic with people stopping to sell lobsters, turtle shell jewelry (the traffic of which is illegal and which we refuse to buy), and marijuana (also illegal and also refused), or begging for gasoline for their outboard and cigarettes.

We planned to move today to another spot because there are some mangroves close by with aggressive no-see-ums but, instead, we are accumulating water for our next batch of laundry. In other words, it is rainy again. Clark improved our water collection system this morning by tensioning the edge of the sun awning to create more of a depression near the spouts. He also fixed a water leak in our fresh water system. It is a day for playing backgammon and drink tea or hot chocolate. It is only 79F (26C) after all!

Guanaja

Wednesday January 1, 2003. Guanaja, Honduras.

N 16 deg. 27′ 20″
85 deg. 52′ 8″

As you can see from the first line, we have entered Honduras and are now in the Bay Islands, just north of the Honduran coast. But let’s start in back at Christmas.

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On December 22, we left the rolly anchorage of the northern reef of Providencia and went to the southwest anchorage, where Gerard hoped to find lobster for Christmas and where I (Birgitta) wanted to take a hike up the tallest hill on the island. There was too much current on the reef and Gerard did not find lobster, although he caught another fish.

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On the 12/23, we all went out for the hike up “high peak”, 1200 ft (400 m) in elevation. We had to hire a guide as the trail was unmarked with many branches early on. The path was a rough gully, used to move cows from one hilly pasture to the other. Many cows had probably been moved recently as we saw open-air butchering in many backyards when we walked across the small village on the way to the head of the trail. It seems every family was slaughtering a cow or a pig for the holidays. The horses, though, were immune and walking happily on the roads, free to go find for themselves the greenest grass on the island. Most of the traffic on the island is motorcycles (because they are cheap and the island is small) and they could easily swerve around the unruffled horses.

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The cows along the trail were quite “talkative” and loud, maybe bemoaning the loss of some of the herds. Midway up, the trail got steeper, with no more cows. It did remain in the cool shade of a moist forest, which was very pleasant. Then we reached a small plateau with palm trees, before the final climb up the summit. It was hot and hard to get there, but the view was breathtaking! We could see the entire island, dark green with lush forests, and surrounded by shimmering turquoise reefs set against the lapis-lazuli blue of the sea. We ate our picnic there, then climbed back down to find a cool beer and ice-cream as reward for a arduous hike.

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Gerard and Francine from sv Inae

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We celebrated Christmas eve with Gerard and Francine aboard Inae. We had foie gras with onion confit brought from France by Francine, followed by a fish salad, roasted chicken with a mushroom and truffle sauce and cream puffs with champagne for dessert. It was delicious! Clark and Gerard played “Stille Nacht” on their guitars, then Gerard followed by some French songs which Francine and I could sing. It made me think of my dad who taught me a lot of the traditional French songs from Brassens and others. Francine surprised us with Christmas presents, French novels for me and sample-size French gourmet jellies for Clark. Then we taught Gerard and Francine to play mexican train, our favorite dominoes game, and we did not finish the game until 1 AM! It was a fun evening.

On Christmas day, we moved back to the main anchorage in front of the town of Isabel because the southwest anchorage was still a bit rolly, and I was ready to start the process of leaving the island. The “process” involves deciding where to go next, reviewing weather information, getting the clearance paperwork done, getting more propane, diesel and food. The next port of call was Guanaja, the eastern most Honduran island in the Bay islands group. The weather forecast seemed to indicate we could get normal trade winds for the region (20 knots), with the normal 9-feet waves associated with it (as reference, I typically refuse to go out in anything above 8 feet). Clark suggested we wait for “below normal” wind and waves conditions but I did not see it coming on the forecast within a week and was impatient (too impatient) to see someplace new. As usual, I should have listened to him, although I am not sure we would have yet found a window for crossing at this point. I should have relaxed and read books. As it is, I convinced myself that we could do the trip to Guanaja in three relatively easy legs, stopping at two reefs in the middle of nowhere, where, I was certain, Gerard was going to find his lobster for New Year Eve. Never mind that the reef anchorage we had tried in Providencia had been uncomfortable in 20-knot winds, I was convinced that the more extensive reef we were planning to visit would provide good protection. From the tone of my discourse, you can guess I was wrong, quite wrong.

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We did get our paperwork done, got propane, diesel, and food, and left on December 27 at about 3 PM for a 130 miles overnight trip to Media Luna reef, along with sv Inae. The afternoon sail was very nice with 15 knots of wind ahead of the beam, and the extensive reef of Providencia still protecting us from the big waves. But in the evening, the wind picked up and the waves reached the 9-foot high forecasted, and I got very seasick. Before the end of the night we were hit by several line squalls with winds hitting 30 knots and a lot of rain. We arrived around noon the next day, with Clark very tired from taking all the watches since 2 AM. Finding the portion of reef we wanted was difficult. The reefs are all below water showing as dark patches if coral, turquoise if shallow sand, and green if very shallow coral. But those signs are not clear-cut. Dark can also mean the bottom is covered with grass, which can be in water deep enough for the boat, and turquoise water is also usually deep enough for the boat to pass. In fact, to find a place shallow enough to anchor, we do need a turquoise spot, as long as it is not too greenish… On top of that, a cloud passing overhead can cast a dark shadow on the water that looks like a coral patch, except that it is moving! We finally found the northern side of the reef associated with Media Luna Cay and anchored in what looked like the middle of a the ocean, except for the patchy colors of the reef around us. The anchorage seem calm enough, even with 20 knots of wind. We were so exhausted, all we could do was swallow a bowl of plain yogurt and sleep.

We woke up to increasing waves and wind. The tide had come up just 1.5 feet, enough to let the waves pass over the reef, and rain squalls with wind gusting to 35 knots were tearing at us. It was easy to decide we were not going to stay at Media Luna any longer than needed. I was also convinced at that point that the other reef we had planned to stop at, Vivarillo reef, was not going to be much more comfortable, being very similar to Media Luna. I did not care about the plentiful lobsters promised at Vivarillo, I just wanted a calm anchorage, behind solid, preferably tall land. So we made a new course taking us directly to Guanaja from Media Luna, another 200 miles, a day and a half at the expected 7 knots of speed we could get with the plentiful wind. Even though I had barely eaten the last day, I did not have much of an appetite and Clark had to force a bowl of rice with a bit of stew on me. I was worried about how I would manage the next leg, longer without the stop at Vivarillo, but did not see much of an alternative. We did not sleep well, listening to the wind and rain. The nylon snubber, which Clark uses to absorb the shocks on the anchor rode when the boat bucks at anchor, shafed through that night.

At dawn, we left Media Luna. I made an effort to eat some breakfast to keep my strength up and Clark gave me a half dose of valium on top of my seasickness medication to help me deal with the waves. The first day, the winds were between 15 and 20 knots with higher gusts associated with the heavy rain squalls which drenched us on a regular basis, particularly on my watch it seems! We had to dig out our foul weather gear, which we had not used in a very long time. I was doing better with the valium, and, after missing my first watch, did all the rest of them. Temptress, of course, sailed happily in the lumpy seas and heavy winds, steady in the blows and patiently moving forward. But her decks were getting washed with lots of sea water, a non-negligible portion of which was finding its way below. Rain was adding to it, soaking towels, cushions, mattresses, wayward books, etc. My foul weather pants were leaking and I ended up quite wet, cold, and tired in the morning and, with the unending rain, had a small nervous breakdown, convinced that the rain would never stop, that we had moved north too soon, that I would never be able to dry the boat and that New Year Eve, just two days later and to be hosted on Temptress, was going to be a disaster. I felt particularly guilty, since I had pushed for leaving Providencia, and thoroughly miserable.

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Birgitta’s hand upon arrival in Guanaja, completely white a wrinkled like after doing a lot of dishes

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And then we arrived at Guanaja… and the rain stopped…and the sun came out… and we found a calm anchorage tucked behind a hill! Clark was very sensitive to my misery and as soon as anchored, although tired himself, immediately started taking wet cushions, towels, and clothing outside to dry in the fresh sun. We had lunch and started to relax. My spirit rose considerably as the sun stayed fixed in a blue sky. We were told later that that rain had been unusual, the highest Guanaja had seen in 30 years for this time of year according to a local. It was the tail end of the major storm battering the northeastern states in the USA with hurricane force winds. Although we had seen the tail on the weather chart before leaving, we had dismissed it as of no major importance to us because it did not seem to affect the tradewinds strength and we thought it would dissipate before we got there. These weather charts do not carry specific rain forecast. Now, we know better.

We had another crisis before day’s end though. We realized that we had left the fridge off since leaving Providencia. The fridge, when running, interferes with radio reception, so we sometimes turn it off to better hear weather reports on the morning SSB nets. After 3 days, the meat in the freezer was very stinky and had leaked rank meat juice over many other things in the fridge! It had to be cleaned immediately. All the meat had to be thrown away, along with some fruits and vegetable, and milk. Fortunately, everything could be replaced in Guanaja. I spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning the floors and some walls of salt water which made them slippery. I was tired but the cleaning felt like I was regaining some measure of control over my house, making it livable again. We slept very well that night.

The next morning, we assembled the dingy, which we had taken apart for the long passage, to protect it from waves and to allow us to use the staysail in heavy wind. I found out that we lost our new solar shower apparently because when I tied it on the boat before leaving Providencia, I tied the rope to the wrong piece of line, meaning that the solar shower was not attached at all. It is a big disappointment as it is the only means of getting a warm shower. Our older solar showers are all leaking and we can not buy them here.

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Then we went to see the port captain to clear in Guanaja and did some shopping in town. The unit of money is the Lempira (named after a hero of Honduran history), and is worth about 1/17 of a dollar, another awkward conversion number which keeps our brain mentally fit. Since there are too many mosquitoes on land, the main town is almost like a Kuna village, with all the houses crammed onto a tiny island just off the coast of the main island. But the house are made of concrete and wood instead of cane and palm fronds. Why is it that people dream of retiring to tropical islands? The mosquitoes still rule here! And the main island is quite unpopulated.

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In Guanaja Settlement (the town name) are no roads and therefore no motorcycles or cars, just narrow walkways between the buildings and some canals to give the locals access to their backyard by boat. It is supposed to be the Venice of Honduras. It is not nearly as grandiose but certainly colorful and friendly, with everyone walking around without the noise and exhaust smell of motorized traffic. There are other houses perched on reefs, small rocks or piling in the vicinity of the town, which are sometimes of bizarre or inventive architecture: from the dome house to the one built entirely out of shipping containers. It was New Year’s Eve, so we did not spent much time in town, having some cooking to do.

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The New year’s Eve celebration did take place on Temptress, which was mostly dry by then. Francine brought again foie gras for the first course and then sauteed some fresh shrimps which were flambe with whisky at the table, a beautiful show! We followed with chicken with wine and cream sauce, served with wild rice and French peas and we concluded with apple pie served with creme anglaise. The table looked good too, with matching real china (which many boats do not have), fancy place mats with matching cloth napkins made by Clark’s mother, and the stately pewter candlesticks we had received for our engagement many year ago from my godmother. I also had made a fresh satsuma candle to perfume the boat with an orangey scent. After a leisurely dinner, we had a rematch of our dominoes game which we managed to finish 3 minutes before midnight! Then we rushed out on deck with the bottle of champagne to pop the cork with the new year’s arrival and see if there were any firework. The fireworks from Guanaja were few and far apart and we put on a show almost as good with used flares Gerard wanted to get rid off. So except for a few details (we had no ice for the Pina Colada because we could not make it in one night after restarting the fridge with warm contents, I put the wrong bottle of wine in the fridge, and the oven was not getting quite hot enough after Clark installed the new propane regulator), we had a most excellent celebration!

After we recover from all this excitement, we will have to deal with some boat maintenance. Most annoying is the failure of our battery and charge source monitor which lets us know how much electrical power we have and whether we can afford to turn the water maker on. Clark already fixed a propane leak by replacing the regulator but it still needs to be adjusted to provide the right oven temperature (it is trial and error for a while). The bilge pumps may need attention too.

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The wind generator control box, corroded through.

We hope you had a good New Year’s Eve celebration as well and wish you a very Happy New Year!