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.
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.
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.
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.
Gerard and Francine from sv Inae
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.
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.
Birgitta’s hand upon arrival in Guanaja, completely white a wrinkled like after doing a lot of dishes
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!