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Home Sweet Home

Friday, June 18th, 2010

We hung around Panama City, Florida until Friday, 5/21.  On Wednesday, 5/19, we moved from anchor to a slip at the Laid-Back Boat Club, just inside Massalina Bayou, where Tom and Sabrina have Honey Ryder docked.  We figured a

Local Denizen

One of the locals at the Laid-Back Boat Club

couple of days on shore power would make the batteries happy and it would also be easier to visit with Tom and Sabrina when they arrived on Thursday.  After Tom and Sabrina got to the marina, Nancy and Sabrina left to do some provisioning and I gave Tom a hand with a couple of chores on Honey Ryder.  We all went to dinner at Bayou Joe’s and then had drinks aboard Stolen Child.  It was really good to see Tom and Sabrina again and we enjoyed seeing Honey Ryder.  Honey Ryder is a Caliber 40 and is a very nice blue water boat, I think they made a good choice in selecting it.

Friday morning we left Panama City, bound for our home port of Moss Point, Mississippi.  The wind was pretty light most of the way and we ran the engine the entire way.  There were only a few hours with enough wind to sail, but I just left the engine running with the transmission out of gear.  It was a very uneventful trip and fortunately we did not run into any of the oil spill from the Deep Water Horizon rig.  We arrived at Petit Bois Island at about 18:30 Saturday, a little too late in the day to make it on up the river to Moss Point before dark, so we anchored on the north side of Petit Bois for the

Tom, Sabrina and Honey Ryder

Tom and Sabrina aboard Honey Ryder

night.  Sunday morning we got up and leisurely weighed anchor and made our way across the Mississippi Sound, up the Pascagoula River and the Escatawpa River and into River City Harbor Marina in Moss Point.  It was quite a nostalgic trip up the river for us.  We had a nice visit with Bobby Tucker, who owns the marina and has been a good friend to us, and then Monday we tidied up the boat and went to dinner with Kenny and Janice and got to see their new house.

Tuesday morning Mom and Dad drove down and we went back to Quitman, Mississippi with them for a visit.  It was good to see my family again after two and a half years.  My nephew Zach has grown quite a lot since we last saw him.  We’ve become real land lubbers since we got back, spending as much time in Quitman at Mom and Dad’s as we have on the boat.  We’ve also been traveling back and forth between New Orleans, Louisiana and Mobile, Alabama and all points in between, looking for a house.  We would like to find a house where we can dock the boat whenever we are in the States.  Unfortunately, it is very hard to find something in our price range that meets all of our criteria.

Dad and Zach

Dad and Zach

Tryin’ To Get Home

Monday, May 17th, 2010

First off, you should be hearing music with this log entry.  I have embedded a theme song for this entry using the Quicktime media player and it may take a minute or two to download the audio file.  If you don’t have the Quicktime plugin installed in your browser, try clicking on this link so that you can hear the theme song (hopefully it will play on whatever plugin you happen to have installed), it fits

Dinghy

Our new dinghy

perfectly this phase of our journey.

Second thing, is anyone reading this???  I’ve decided that this will be my last post if nobody is reading this.  So, if you are reading this, you should send me an email to let me know someone is actually out there.

And now we continue with our regularly scheduled programming.

We wound up staying in Key West for almost two months.  We spent one month in a marina on Stock Island, which is just east of Key West.  While there, we did a few maintenance items on the boat and we got our new dinghy.  Our old dinghy was on its last legs.  I had patched it a few times and it was needing more patching.  It would still be a good dinghy for occasional use, but for live-aboard cruisers, the dinghy is a very essential piece of equipment and gets hard, almost daily use and abuse.  The old dinghy came with the boat when we first bought it and has served us well for over two years, but it had an inflatable floor, which is good in that it can be deflated and rolled completely up and stowed away below deck.

Tom Rust

Patrick and Tommy

It is bad, though, in that it rides lower in the water, which makes for a very wet ride when there is much chop at all.  We had decided we wanted to replace it with a hard bottom dinghy, most of which are fiberglass.  Our friends Ed and Julie, on S/V Free Radical have an aluminum bottom dinghy, which we have always admired.  The aluminum is both lighter and stronger than the fiberglass, so we decided to buy a brand new aluminum-bottom dinghy, and also to get one just a little larger than our old dinghy.  When we pulled into Old Island Harbor Marina, we met Tommy and Terry, a couple of our neighbors in the marina.  Terry just happened to have a pickup truck and said he would drive us to Miami to pick up our new dinghy.  Now that we have gotten over the sticker shock, we really like the new dinghy.  It is much roomier and much drier, even when the water is pretty choppy.  While we were in the marina, we also made an equipment bag to go in the dinghy, replaced all the lines and sheaves on the dinghy davits and added some cam cleats, tightened the shaft packing and cleaned the bilge, replaced the reef lines and 4 sheaves in

Blue Angel

Navy Blue Angel

the end of the boom, modified the reefing lines to run through some blocks I attached to the reef cringles, removed and filtered the fluid from the autopilot and cleaned out the reservoir, changed oil in the diesel engine, applied waterproofing to the bimini, replaced the mast boot, and various and sundry other jobs.  While we were at the marina, we were also entertained by the U.S. Navy’s precision flying team, the Blue Angels.  There is an airstrip for the Naval Air Station very near the marina, and they were putting on an air show.  The Blue Angels began practicing on a Wednesday and the air show was on Saturday and Sunday, so we were able to watch 5 days of air show from the cockpit of our boat.

Kevin and Debbie arrived in Key West on Wednesday, April 14, and stayed for a few days.  We had a great time visiting with them.  They got in late Wednesday and we met them at the Rusty Anchor, a nice seafood restaurant near the marina.  Thursday afternoon Kevin drove us around in his rental car to stock up on provisions and that evening we all wandered around Duval Street.  Friday he and Debbie sailed with us back out to the anchorage.  It was great seeing

Blue Angels

Navy Blue Angels

them and we wished they could have stayed longer.

We were watching the overnight low temperatures along the northern Gulf of Mexico and waiting for them to stay

consistently above 60 degrees before heading home.  We were anxious to get home, but after 2 and a half years in the tropics, we aren’t very well adapted to cold weather anymore.  Key West is a pretty nice place to spend some time, but it can be incredibly expensive, even for

such essentials as food and pints of Guinness.  At least the local pub, Finnegan’s Wake, started giving us the locals discount of 15 percent off our tabs.  One day we were sitting in the cockpit in the anchorage when somebody starts yelling at us.  We look around to see none other than Ed and Julie sailing Free Radical into the anchorage.  Damn, thought we’d left them behind in Roatan, do we owe them money or something?  Seriously, though, it was awesome to see them again.  They were on their way taking Free Radical (the red mono-hull) back up to Canada to put it up for sale (they are keeping the catamaran in Roatan).  They had sailed directly up from Roatan and had a pretty rough ride, and the autopilot failed on them two days out of Key West.  Nancy and I played tour guide and showed them around Key West and where to find everything they might need.  Naturally, we also took

Kevin and Debbie

Kevin and Debbie arrive in Key West

them to Finnegan’s Wake for a pint or two of Guinness.  We got to visit with them for a good week before we left on our journey home.  One day we took them on a dinghy safari through Key West.  Ralph and Tiff had told us of a canal that ran right behind the Winn-Dixie supermarket, and we thought we’d dinghy in to do some provisioning.  We missed the entrance to the canal and wound up pretty much on the northeast end of Key West and decided to ask a local for directions.  He said since we were as far east as we were, we should just take the Riviera Canal, which runs right through the center of Key

West behind a bunch of nice homes, and then meets up with a small channel through the mangroves, and eventually comes out behind the Winn-Dixie and meets up with the canal we were originally looking for.  It was quite the dinghy ride, but it was very interesting.  There was one place through the mangroves where we had to clear a fallen tree from the canal before we could proceed, and a couple of bridges we had to pass under that were only about 8 inches above the top of the dinghy.  In all, it was about a 5 hour dinghy ride, through parts of Key West never before seen by tourists and unknown even to most locals.  Though badly sunburned, Ed and Julie were suitably impressed with their tour guides and graciously tipped us with lots of beer.

The weather up in the northern Gulf finally seemed to be warm enough to suit our wardrobe, and on Tuesday, May 4th, it looked like we would have favorable winds to head out, and so we did.  At first, we were making about 6 knots with a 15 knot breeze, heading for the Ft. Myers area, but after a few hours, the wind started dying out and we changed course for Everglades City.  At our new speed of 3 knots, Ft. Myers would have been a night-time arrival and

Kevin and Debbie aboard Stolen Child

Kevin and Debbie aboard Stolen Child for a day sail

Everglades City, being closer, would be an early morning arrival.  We arrived at 09:20 on May 5th and anchored in Russell Pass, just off the Indian Key Pass approach to Everglades City.  Everglades City is actually a few miles from the Gulf.  Between Everglades City and the Gulf is a mangrove swamp known as the Ten-Thousand Islands.  There are many paths through the mangroves, but Indian Key Pass is about the only path leading to Everglades City that is consistently deep enough for us to travel.  We were pretty tired, so we decided to rest up and wait until Thursday to dinghy into town.  We were anchored in a very pretty, scenic setting, nestled among the mangroves, and there was just enough of a breeze to make it very pleasant.  Until dark.  Once the sun went away, so did the breeze, and out came the mosquitoes.  Millions and billions

of them.  I put on bug spray and they acted like it was cocktail sauce.  Impossible to sit and relax or read a book, so we went to bed.  With no breeze it had become quite warm, but with the mosquitoes, I had to keep the sheet pulled completely over my head and just endure the sweating.  Needless to say, we didn’t sleep much that night.  Finally morning came and with it a little breeze to chase the bugs away.  We dinghied into Everglades City and found it to be a very nice, kind of backwoods town.  We tied the dinghy up to the dock at the City Seafood Restaurant and ordered some lunch.  We wanted to get some jerry jugs of diesel to take back to the boat and also some gas for the dinghy.  I started talking with a couple of guys at the restaurant and it turns out one of them, Richard, was the owner.  He said

Free Radical

Free Radical arrives at Key West

there wasn’t a fuel dock that sold diesel, but he also

runs a couple of shrimp boats and would sell me some of his diesel.  He also offered me the use of his golf cart to

run around town and get some gas for the dinghy and buy a couple of extra jerry cans so I could take more diesel back to the boat.  I thought that was incredibly nice of him and took him up on the offer.  Our waitress also offered us the use of her car if we wanted to drive around and do some sight-seeing.  The people in Everglades City are so nice that if it weren’t for the mosquitoes, I’d consider living there.  We couldn’t bear the thought of another night with the mosquitoes, so once we got back to the boat we got underway for Ft. Myers.  The wind was light and mostly on the nose, so we had to motor all the way.  Not long after leaving, a small brown and yellow bird (maybe a finch?) flew aboard.  It isn’t unusual to have a bird hitch a ride, but this one flew below deck and I couldn’t chase him back out.  He didn’t seem particularly afraid of me and he didn’t want to go back out, so I finally gave up and left him below, hoping he wouldn’t shit all over the place.  Late that night, about

Happy Ed

He looks mighty happy, how many of those has he had?

02:00 in the morning, Nancy was in the cockpit, letting me take a nap.  All of a sudden she heard this huge roaring noise approach and come alongside the boat.  She could just barely make out a large black shape next to the boat when she was suddenly blinded by a spotlight.  She is justifiably freaked out and gets me up to see what is going on.  Turns out it is the Coast Guard wanting to do a safety inspection.  We tell them to come on aboard and two of them come over and start asking to see our flares, life jackets, fire extinguishers, etc., etc.  They are very polite and the only problem they found was that our flares had expired at

the beginning of the year.  They said it was so rare to see a boat as well-equipped and squared away as ours, that they weren’t even going to mention the flares on the report, as long as I would buy new ones at the first opportunity.  Satisfied with our safety, they were on their way after about 30 minutes.  I am a staunch supporter of the Coast Guard and think it is one of the best uses to which our tax dollars are put, but Nancy sincerely wishes they would modify their approach technique.  She says if she had any kind of heart condition, she would definitely have had a major

Entrance to Indian Key Pass

Entrance to Indian Key Pass

heart-attack right then.

We got to San Carlos Bay at 10:30 on Friday, May 7, without any further excitement, and anchored off the beachbetween Ft. Myers proper and Ft. Myers Beach.  We were both exhausted, so we just slept a lot and relaxed on the boat for the rest of the day.  Saturday we dinghied into Ft. Myers Beach to look around.  It is a typical beach

resort town.  Lots of night clubs, restaurants, traffic, and tourists, but not as expensive as Key West.  We ate at a place called Bonita Bill’s, right on the water, good food and very reasonably priced.  That night we were again attacked by mosquitoes.  We had gone to bed with a nice breeze blowing, but it must have died shortly after we went to sleep, because we woke up to the drone of hundreds of mosquitoes and the air was dead calm.  We put up all the screens and spent an hour killing all the ones that were already aboard and were then able to get back to sleep.  Sunday we dinghied into town again to track down a grocery store, which we found, and also located an Irish pub.  The grocery was two or three miles from the dinghy dock and the pub was on the way.  We got our groceries, and then fortified ourselves at the pub for the hike back to the dinghy.  The forecast for Monday was light but favorable winds, so we decided to continue on to either Tampa or all the way up to Panama City, depending on conditions underway.

I don't get any respect around here

I don't get any respect around here

We got underway a little before 09:00 Monday morning, making 5 to 6 knots with a 10 to 15 knot breeze on the starboard beam.  Early in the afternoon, though, the wind started dying and we had to crank up the engine.  By evening the wind had picked back up and clocked around to the starboard stern, so we were running almost dead

downwind, engine off, mainsail only, making about 6 knots.  We weren’t but a few miles from shore, so we were seeing the occasional fishing boat.  Along about midnight, I saw a white light off my starboard bow.  I couldn’t see any light except a white light, so I assumed it was a boat on a course roughly parallel to ours.  After a few minutes, it had moved closer to the bow, but I still could only see the single white light, even with binoculars.  It is very unusual to overtake other vessels in a sailboat, but that appeared to be what was happening.  I tried hailing on the VHF, but no response, so I altered course just a little to make sure we passed along his port side.  A few minutes later, though, we again appear to be on a collision course and still all I see is the one white light, but with binoculars, I can now see a faint glow that I finally figure out is the backlighting from his instruments in the pilothouse.  Holy shit, we are almost on top of him!  Now I’m in a pickle, because he is just barely on my starboard side and I’m running with the

Nancy

Happy crew is a sure sign of a good captain

main all the way out on the port side.  I can’t turn to starboard because we are too close to him, and if I turn to port I’m going to jybe.  There’s no choice, really, so I turn hard to port, hoping the preventer on the boom holds.  About this time, we are so close I can see him pop out of the pilothouse and become aware of what is going on, and as we go by him, I can now see his green starboard running light, but apparently his red port light is burned out, which led to my confusion about his course.  Now I am damn near dead in the water with the main backwinded and straining against the preventer, but at least we are clear of any danger.  I think the Coast Guard should give him a safety inspection.  Other than that, it was a good night, with the wind strong enough that we were making 6 to 7 knots downwind most of the night.  By noon on Tuesday, the wind had died down and we had to start the engine again.

We arrived offshore Panama City with sunrise Thursday morning and motored through the entrance to St. Andrew Bay, across the bay and into Massalina Bayou, where we anchored at 08:20.  After resting up and getting out to explore a little, we are really impressed with Panama City.  St. Andrew Bay is really beautiful and a great sailing bay.

Smooth sailing

Smooth sailing

Old downtown Panama City is adjacent to Massalina Bayou, where we are anchored, and is really clean and pretty with lots of small restaurants and a very nice used bookstore.  The surrounding neighborhoods are old, established neighborhoods with nice homes and lots of towering shade trees.  There are palm trees, pines, and even magnolias, which are just now in bloom, and there is even Spanish moss hanging from the trees.  If you ask for tea in the restaurants, they don’t ask how you want it, they just bring you a glass of sweet, iced tea, like they should in a proper southern town.  In short, this place feels like home.  The wind out in the northern Gulf has been very light and variable and is forecast to remain so until this coming Friday, May 21, so we probably won’t leave until at least Friday.  Tom and Sabrina have their new boat, Honey Ryder, here and plan to be here on Thursday, and we would like to see them before we leave, too.  For the sake of getting something posted to the Log Book, and seeing if there is actually anyone reading this, I’ll go ahead and post this and then post the conclusion of our “Tryin’ to get Home” journey after we arrive in Moss Point.

Wild Ride to Key West

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

A couple of years ago, when we left Dry Tortugas bound for Mexico, we found ourselves in company with another boat, S/V Jupiter’s Smile, who had left Dry Tortugas about the same time we did.  We maintained radio contact on the trip, and once we arrived in Isla Mujeres, we met Jay and Barb, the owners of Jupiter’s Smile.  We met up with them once in Roatan about a year ago, but hadn’t seen or heard from them otherwise.  Monday morning, March 8th, we

Underway

Underway

heard Jupiter’s Smile on the VHF.  They had just arrived in Isla Mujeres.  We hailed them and made plans to visit later that day.  That afternoon, Nancy and I went to the Soggy Peso and got some ceviche and guacamole to go and took it out to Jupiter’s Smile.  It was very nice to see Jay and Barb again and it just so happened that they were on their way to Key West.  Since we had both arrived in Isla Mujeres together a couple of years ago, it seemed serendipity that we leave Isla Mujeres together.  We looked at the weather forecasts and it seemed that the best window in quite a while would be coming up on Wednesday, so we made plans to set sail for Key West on Wednesday.  Tuesday morning Nancy and I went to town to once again clear out of Mexico with Immigration and the Port Captain, then paid our marina fees and prepared to go out on anchor.  While we were doing all of this, Jay had gotten some updated weather that indicated we should leave Tuesday instead of waiting for Wednesday.  We left the dock and motored in circles around the anchorage, preparing the boat for sea.  At about 11:45 we got underway, along with Jupiter’s Smile.  Sea Biscuit, another boat headed for Key West with Michael and Robin aboard, joined our little flotilla shortly after we had gotten underway.

It started out a pleasant enough passage.  The seas were just a little high from the last Norther that had blown through and from the forecast, we expected maybe 8 hours of 20 knot wind from the Northeast, which would then drop to about 15 knots and start clocking around to the East, then Southeast, and eventually going on to the Northwest in advance of the next front, by which time we would be on our final approach to Key West.  We had it all planned out and the plan was perfect.  Unfortunately, Mother Nature did not follow the plan.  The wind remained pretty much Northeast for the whole trip and except for a few brief hours of respite, remained in the 25 knot range and higher for most of the time.  One night we recorded gusts as high as 40 knots with a steady 30 to 35 knots.  Oh, well, a bad day of sailing is still better than a good day at the office.

It took us about 65 hours to make the passage.  Unfortunately, it was bumpy enough of a ride that Nancy took another fall.  Not as bad as the one on the way from Honduras, but she hurt her foot.  When it is more than just a little rough, or when the boat is heeled over very much, it is very hard for her to move around the boat and we’ve found it best that she spend most of the time in the quarter berth.  She can usually relieve me for a couple of hours each day so that I can get some good sleep, and I take 15 minute catnaps once or twice in the dead of the night.  That works for a couple of days, but I’m pretty worn out by then.  Otherwise, it was a pretty good trip.  We had current with us most of the way and usually made 6 knots or better, and several times the GPS showed us making 9 knots over the ground for an hour or more at a time.

After the first several hours, the three of us, Jupiter’s Smile, Sea Biscuit, and Stolen Child, were no longer in visual contact as we each followed our own instincts for finding the most favorable current and playing the balancing act

Patrick with Jay and Barb

Patrick, Jay and Barb in Key West

between speed and comfort.  By the second day, we weren’t even in VHF radio range and we had to keep in contact with the SSB radio, which is longer range than the VHF.  Late in the evening on our second day at sea, we were about 50 nautical miles North Northwest of the coast of Cuba.  We were having our 10:00 p.m. check-in on the SSB when we heard a very faint mayday on the radio.  It was a woman’s voice and her signal was very weak.  It seems she and her husband were also on their way to Florida from Isla Mujeres, and had anchored in a remote bay on the coast of Cuba so they could let their dog take a walk ashore and do his doggie business.  The husband had taken the dog in the dinghy at 6:30 p.m. and shortly after he, the dog and the dinghy had disappeared in the mangroves, she had heard shots.  It was now after 10:00 and he still wasn’t back and she was stranded on the boat and was afraid that whoever had shot him would come for her next.  Of the three of us in our little flotilla, Stolen Child was closest to her position, and Sea Biscuit was the northern-most boat.  Sea Biscuit changed course directly for Dry Tortugas, hoping to get in VHF range of the U.S. Coast Guard station there, while Stolen Child and Jupiter’s Smile changed course directly for her position.  Once we had changed course, we no longer were going with the current, and our speed was about 5 knots, so we estimated it would take 10 hours to reach her.  In the meantime, Jay on Jupiter’s Smile began trying to get assistance on various emergency SSB channels and I remained in radio contact with the stranded woman.  We continued in this manner until 02:00 on the 11th, when the woman’s husband came on the SSB.  Apparently he had not been shot, as she had feared, merely lost.  The bay where they anchored was a mangrove inlet, with no beach to land the dinghy and walk the dog, so he had to motor the dinghy through the maze of channels through the mangroves, looking for a place to land.  In the process he got lost and in the process of trying to find a

Sunset at Key West

Sunset in the anchorage at Key West

way out, ran out of gas in the dinghy.  Fortunately, he found a small fish camp and one of the Cuban fishermen towed him back to his boat.  The shots she had heard were just somebody hunting birds.  All is well that ends well, and we all resumed our previous courses.  The diversion actually helped us out because otherwise we would have arrived at Key West around midnight on the 11th or very early a.m. on the 12th and the anchorage at Key West can be so crowded I wouldn’t want to try it in the dark.  As it was, we still had to slow the boat down in order to arrive after sunrise.

After this trip, Nancy and I have decided that we will limit our sailing to overnight trips and for any longer passages that we need to make, we’ll find somebody to help me crew the boat and Nancy will fly and meet us at the destination.  She has enjoyed our day sails and really loves living on the boat, but blue water sailing is really too rough for her in the best of conditions and single-handing for more than a day or two is not very pleasant for me.

We will stay here in Key West for a few weeks until the weather warms up further North, and then head back to Mississippi, where we will visit with friends and family, then we plan to take the boat to Mobile, Alabama, where we will have it hauled out and do some work on her while we plan our next adventure.

Rob’s Mexico Visit

Monday, March 8th, 2010

We finally convinced Rob to leave all that pretty snow in Kansas City and visit us in balmy Mexico.  A couple of days before he arrived, we picked up the anchor and pulled into Marina Paraiso.  Our dinghy is in very sad shape and we

Freddy

Freddy at The Soggy Peso

didn’t want to try running 3 people back and forth to the beach in it, and we also planned to take Rob on a road trip to Merida for several days, so the marina seemed like the place to be.  It was good to see Tom, Elizabeth and Chepo again as well.

Rob arrived on Wednesday, February 17.  He was so accustomed to cold weather that he didn’t even need a jacket at night when the temperature would get down to 70 degrees.  In fact, he was so bold as to make disparaging remarks when Nancy and I would get all bundled up in jackets and long pants.  Our first stop after getting him settled aboard was, of course, the Soggy Peso and, as we were sure he would, he loved the place.  He declared their Margaritas excellent.  Freddy makes the Margaritas using freshly squeezed limes, tequila and Controy (more or less the same as triple sec) and that’s it.  No fancy Margarita mix or anything else.  On Thursday we toured downtown Isla Mujeres and ate lunch at one of the little loncherias next to the municipal mercado.  Thursday evening we walked around an area of Isla Mujeres called the Colonia that is away from the touristy downtown area.  This is where all the locals live.  We ate at my favorite restaurant on the island, called Kash Keken Chuc (it’s a Mayan name, so don’t try to pronounce it).  It is a tiny little

Yoyo

Yoyo (Joao) at The Soggy Peso

place on the corner with 3 tables inside and 2 tables on the sidewalk.  They have the best food and the cheapest prices of anywhere on the island.  You can get 2 empanadas, 2 panuchos, 2 flautas, a large piece of the best flan you’ve ever had, and 2 beers (they don’t sell beer, but you can walk across the street and get a few bottles at the tienda) and you’ll have spent about 6 bucks.  As they say in Mexico, “baratisimo.”

Friday we caught the ferry to Cancun, a taxi to the bus station, and a bus to Valladolid, a medium sized town half-way between Cancun and Merida.  Nancy and I had been through Valladolid on our way to Merida, but never stopped and it looked like a place worth exploring.  We got off the bus and walked several blocks to the municipal mercado to find some lunch.  Most towns in Mexico have what is called a mercado, which is usually a large, open building where various merchants set up stalls selling fresh vegetables, meats, and various and sundry other things.  The mercado is where the locals shop and the best places to eat are usually found in close

Cenote at Cuzama

One of the Cenotes at Cuzama

proximity to the mercado.  We found a suitable place and had an excellent lunch and then headed back to the bus station.  We had a little time to kill before the next bus to Merida, so we found a little cantina across the street from the bus station.  In the Yucatan, there is this concept of “botanas,” which means that if you are buying beer, they will give you food to go with it.  This cantina was selling 1.5 liter bottles of Montejo, a pretty good beer, for 35 pesos, which works out to about $2.70, and then they give you food to snack on while you drink it.  Now is that a deal or what?  So much beer and so little time.  We had a bus to catch and could only avail ourselves of 2 bottles between the 3 of us before we had to board the bus for Merida.  Two bottles is 3 liters, and that equates to about 8 and a half regular 12 ounce bottles of beer.  Not a bad way to kill an hour waiting for a bus.  We got to Merida and checked into our hotel, Las Arecas, which is really a colonial-style house that has been converted to have 4 or 5 rooms, each room having a sitting/dining area with a kitchenette, a bedroom and a bathroom.  There is also a large common kitchen and dining room which we were encouraged to make use of, and two central courtyards.  It was very nice and only $35/night.

Cuzama Express

The Cuzama Express Train

After checking in, we walked around El Centro, the central square, and ate at Pancho’s.  Pancho’s is a touristy restaurant and on the expensive side, but the food and atmosphere is very good and should be tried at least once.  Nancy and I had eaten there on two previous occasions and liked it, but this time we got the lousy waiter, so the service left something to be desired.

Saturday we rented a car and drove to the tiny village of Cuzama, where there is a nearby group of 3 cenotes, or underground pools.  These are the same cenotes Nancy and I visited on our second trip to Merida, and again when we returned with Susan and LA.  The cenotes lie along an old narrow-gauge railway that was put in over a hundred years ago when Cuzama was a hacienda.  Horse-drawn rail cars were used to move supplies around the hacienda and now they are used to carry tourists to the cenotes.  The cenotes are quite spectacular.  The Yucatan is basically a limestone shelf sitting in the Gulf of Mexico.  It is very flat and has no surface rivers or streams of any note.  All the water runs underground through tunnels and caves in the limestone.

Cenote at Cuzama

Climbing Down Into The Cenote

Sometimes the roof of one of the underground caves will collapse, allowing access to the water.  Water is such a precious commodity in the Yucatan, that from time imemorial, people settled near the cenotes to have a reliable source of water.  Most of the Mayan ruins have a nearby cenote.  The water that flows through them is incredibly clear, as it has filtered through the limestone.  There are cenotes all over the Yucatan peninsula, and of the ones we have visited, the ones at Cuzama are the most impressive.

After the cenotes, we returned to Merida and had dinner at La Blanca Merida, then walked to the Inicio Paseo de Montejo to watch some traditional Mexican folk dancing.  Saturday and Sunday evenings in Merida they close the streets around El Centro to traffic and the restaurants put tables out in the streets and musicians of various styles perform.  After watching the folk dancing we returned to El Centro and sat outside the La Blanca Merida, sipping xtabentun and beer and listening to a woman singing Cuban Salsa music.  Xtabentun (another Mayan name, don’t try pronouncing it) is a traditional Mayan liquor made from anise and honey and is quite tasty with a beer chaser.  The cuban lady was a very good singer and there were 3 local women sitting at a table near us who were incredible dancers.  The 3 women would get up and dance to almost every song and it was fascinating watching them.  There was a little girl about 9 years old at another table who was also an incredible dancer and we enjoyed watching her, as well.

Sunday we kept the rental car and visited some Mayan ruins along what is called the “Puuc Route” which is south of

Arch at Labnah

Rob and the Arch at Labnah

Merida.  We visited a total of 5 ruins.  Labna, Xlapak, Sayil, Kabah and Uxmal.  Uxmal is a very large ruin, comparable in size and granduer to Chichen Itza.  The other 4 are smaller in total area, but each is very significant architecturally.  I think Rob was very impressed with the scale and sophistication of the ruins.  Another nice thing about these particular ruins is that they are not as heavily visited as Chichen Itza, so you pretty much have them to yourself while you are there, and you don’t trip over all the vendors selling Mayan arts and crafts.  It was a very long day of sight-seeing and they actually had to run us out of Uxmal at closing time.

One of the museums in Merida was having a large exhibit of Salvador Dali paintings and we wanted to see it on Monday.  Unfortunately, the museum is closed on Mondays, so we walked along the Paseo de Montejo.  The Paseo is a wide boulevard lined with large and stately mansions.  The museum of archaeology and natural history is also on the Paseo de Montejo, but again, it was closed on Mondays.  Oh well, at least we got to visit the Wal-Mart, which is also on the Paseo de Montejo and was not closed on Mondays.  We wandered over to another section of Merida called Barrio Santiago and had a nice meal at a little sidewalk cafe.  For desert we had a real treat that I’d never tried before.  It is called a marquesita and is essentially a sweet, crispy crepe rolled up with cheese inside.  Wow, it was good.

Rob had enjoyed the ruins so much that we decided to stop at Chichen Itza on our way back to Isla Mujeres on Tuesday.  Chichen Itza is the most visited of any of the Mayan ruins and the tour buses were rolling in.  As many

Chichen Itza

Rob and El Castillo at Chichen Itza

tourists as there were at Chichen Itza, they were almost outnumbered by the vendors selling arts and crafts.  Chichen Itza is such an impressive sight, it is too bad that you can’t adequately enjoy it because you are constantly having to fend off people trying to sell you stuff “very cheap, almost free, just for you, only today.”  I do have to say that some of the stuff they are selling is very nice, some of it is actually hand-made by the locals themselves, and some of it is incredibly cheap, but you really only need so many hand-carved mayan masks and hand-woven mayan hammocks.

We made it back to Isla Mujeres pretty late and the next day began preparing to get underway.  Our plan was to sail up to an island named Holbox and anchor for a couple of days, then continue on to Key West.  There had been one or two northers blowing through every week for a couple of months, and I felt sure they would be coming to an end by the time we were ready to go.  Unfortunately, they just kept coming.  We waited for a week and then it was too late to stop in Holbox and still get Rob to Key West in time for his flight back to KC, so we now planned to sail directly from Isla

Uxmal

Rob and the Magician's Pyramid at Uxmal

Mujeres to Key West.  Finally, the forecast called for a longer break between northers once the current one blew out, so we cleared out with Mexican immigration and the Port Captain.  Unfortunately, the current norther stalled over Isla Mujeres for two days.  That was our last opportunity to sail to Key West in time for Rob’s flight, so we had to clear back into Mexico with immigration and the Port Captain, and Rob had to buy a plane ticket to Kansas City from Cancun.  Rob did some snorkeling and we continued to enjoy some great Mexican and Yucatecan food, not to mention the beers and margaritas at the Soggy Peso.  On Fridays and Saturdays they make tamales at Kash Keken Chuc and they are about the best tamales I’ve ever had, so that’s where we had dinner on Rob’s last two nights in Isla Mujeres.  He flew out on Sunday, the 7th of March.  Even though we didn’t do any sailing, I think he enjoyed his visit.  I know we enjoyed having him.

Marking Time In Mexico

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

We have been back in Mexico for about 2 months now, and we have to say that we really like Mexico.  We stayed on a mooring ball at Marina El Cid for about a month.  El Cid is just a little south of Puerto Morelos and is

Coba Hotel

The Hotel in Coba

about a 15 minute walk along the beach into town.  Puerto Morelos is a small, laid-back town, with just a little buzz of tourism, nothing at all like Cancún or even Isla Mujeres.  There is a nice central plaza, surrounded by small shops and restaurants, and a very nice beach.  On Thursdays the fresh produce truck sets up shop on the street beside the church and you can get really good produce for very little money.  There is a very nice corner cafe with really good coffee and a nice used book store with lots of titles in English.  Most days we would walk along the beach into town, have coffee and bagels while people-watching, stroll around a bit, buy a couple of novels to read, and have a late lunch at one of the restaurants, then head back to the boat.

While we were in Puerto Morelos, we took a bus to Cobá, to visit the Mayan ruins there.  There are Mayan ruins all over the Yucatan and on down into Belize, Guatemala and Honduras.  We visited several the last time we were in Mexico, but we never made it to Cobá.  One of the distinctive features of Cobá is that it is mostly unexcavated.  The more well-known ruins like Chichen-Itza have been excavated and refurbished to a large degree, so that one is able to see them somewhat like they must have appeared when the were still occupied.  Cobá, in contrast, is mostly unexcavated and appears much more as it would have when it was

Coba

Restaurant and Bus Station in Coba

“re-discovered.”  Some of the main structures at Cobá have been excavated, but not much reconstruction has been done.  The main pyramid at Cobá is also the tallest in the Yucatan (about 140 feet tall), taller even than Chichen-Itza.  We arrived in Cobá in the early afternoon and rented a room for the night.  We got to the ruins about 8:00 the next morning and had a couple of hours before the first tour buses started rolling in.  The ruins are scattered over an area of approximately 30 square miles and clustered in 3 or 4 main groupings.  The Mayans built elevated roads of stone and plaster connecting the various groups of structures, as well as extending to other nearby ruins.  The longest Mayan road out of Cobá extends over 62 miles.  Archaeological evidence indicates that Cobá was first inhabited around the first century, with most of the major construction having been done between 500 and 900 B.C.E.  It remained an important and inhabited city until at least the late 14th century.

After our visit to Cobá we set out for Isla Mujeres, an easy 5 or 6 hour sail to the North.  Or at least it should have been an easy sail.  I noticed the bilge pump running and discovered that we had pumped 100 gallons of fresh water

Pyramid

Patrick On The Coba Pyramid

into the bilge.  One entire tank of fresh water was now being pumped over the side.  Bummer.  I decided that since we weren’t sinking, I would wait until we got to Isla Mujeres to figure out where the leak was.  Then the autopilot decided to act up.  As long as the autopilot was engaged, it worked fine, but when you put it in standby, so that you could hand-steer, it wouldn’t release and you couldn’t steer the boat.  Bummer.  I had to physically disconnect the hydraulic ram from the rudder post and then hand-steer the rest of the way.  Fortunately it was a short trip and we still had 100 gallons of fresh water in the other tank.  We made it to Isla Mujeres without further mishap and got anchored.  We decided to declare the rest of the day a holiday.  The next morning we found the source of the fresh water leak.  A hose had come off a fitting.  As with so much on a boat, it was much easier to fix it than it was to get to it, but after a couple of hours we once again had fresh water.  The next item on the agenda, the autopilot, also turned out to be relatively easy to fix.  There is a solenoid valve that acts as a clutch when the

Soggy Peso

Patrick and Nancy with Freddy at the Soggy Peso

autopilot is engaged and this solenoid valve was not releasing as it should.  A disassembly and thorough cleaning got it working again, although it is possible that some small piece of debris in the hydraulic fluid caused it to stick in the first place.  I have ordered a replacement solenoid and if the problem reoccurs I will have to drain the fluid from the whole system, disassemble and clean everything, and put it back together with new fluid.  In any event, everything was now fixed and we declared the rest of the day a holiday.

The most excitement we’ve had while in Isla Mujeres this time is watching the drag races.  That is a euphimistic way of saying that a lot of boats were dragging their anchors around the anchorage with all these Northers blowing through.  One boat was dragging so frequently that we loaned them our secondary anchor.  I am glad that we did not head directly to the U.S. as we had originally intended because these Northers we are having are the result of all that really nasty winter weather dumping snow all over the place in the States.  We have become so accustomed to the tropics that we get all shivery and put on jackets when the temperature gets to the low 70’s here.

We also met a very nice couple at the Soggy Peso.  Greg and Cheri were on vacation from the States and interested in

Greg and Cheri

Greg and Cheri

cruising, so we invited them aboard to see the boat.  They own a restaurant in Des Moines and vacation every year in Isla Mujeres.  Speaking of the Soggy Peso, it was very nice to see Mal and Sally, the owners, again, as well as the Soggy Peso Crew of Freddy, Yo Yo, Snoopy, Cash and Manuel.

Roatan to Key West… Not Quite

Monday, December 14th, 2009

We left Roatan on Sunday, December 6th, with the intention of sailing directly to Key West. We had decent conditions, not great, but not bad, either. The wind was mostly around 10 to 15 knots and was just a little more north of east than I’d have liked it. The sea state was only about 4 feet with a northeast swell, but also a dying northerly swell that made for a little bumpier ride than usual. The forecast had called for the wind to come a little more southerly, perhaps east-southeast, which would have made for a pretty nice beam reach, but instead we had to pinch pretty close to the wind to maintain our desired heading. No worries, though, we were making anywhere from 6 to 8 knots and everything aboard was working well.

Unfortunately, Nancy was getting a little green around the gills. Because of the northerly component of the swell, we were pitching fore and aft a little, in addition to the beam to beam rolling caused by the northeasterly swell, and we were heeled over perhaps 20 degrees from wind pressure on the sails. Not really a very bad ride, but the combination of motions makes it difficult to move around the boat.

On Tuesday morning, the start of our third full day at sea, I had just gotten to sleep in the quarterberth when I heard a loud crash and woke up to find Nancy sprawled on the cabin sole (floor) next to the quarterberth. She had been in the galley, on the starboard side of the boat, when a wave slapped into the boat and caused it to roll more than usual to port, tossing her across the cabin and down into the quarterberth. She didn’t have any broken bones, but somewhere along the way her back had taken a pretty good blow and was very sore.

Nancy had fallen in the head the day before and banged up her elbow and by this point I’d only had about 4 hours of sleep in better than 48 hours, so we decided to head for Puerto Morelos, which was only about 40 miles to the west. We arrived at Marina El Cid, just south of Puerto Morelos, a little after noon and tied up to a mooring ball. We have been here almost a week now and Nancy’s back is starting to feel better.

As far as our plans, we are not sure yet. We are still planning to head on to Key West, but we may stay in Mexico for a month or two before continuing on. We are talking to Rob about coming down for a visit, if we can convince him to leave all that pretty snow in Kansas City and endure this balmy 80 – 90 degree tropical climate. It may be a hard sell, but we are hoping he will come for a visit in February and perhaps even sail back with us to Key West.

Stay tuned for further developments.

Marking Time in Roatan

Monday, December 14th, 2009

Wow, it has been almost 9 months since my last log entry. The main reason I haven’t made an entry in all that time is that we haven’t done anything really new and exciting. After Rob’s visit we went back to West End for a bit, then back to Coxen Hole, French Harbor, Calabash Bight to visit more with Ed and Julie on Free Radical, and then wound up in Port Royal. These are all harbors along the southern coast of Roatan. Our original plan was to cruise around the various harbors in Roatan for a couple of months and then head to the Rio Dulce in Guatemala, where we would sit out hurricane season. The Rio Dulce is where most cruisers in the Northwest Caribbean sit out hurricane season. It is located up the Rio Dulce river in the mountains of Guatemala and is very well protected from hurricanes. There are lots of marinas but they get pretty crowded with all the cruising boats during hurricane season. Many cruisers leave their boats there and fly back to the States and others stay on their boats. We had heard that there was quite a bit of crime directed at the cruisers in the Rio, most of it petty, but a growing amount of violent crime. After seeing what a great hurricane hole Calabash Bight would be, and factoring in the negative things we’d heard about Rio Dulce, we decided to sit out hurricane season in Roatan.

Roatan is the largest of the Bay Islands of Honduras. It is long and narrow, running more or less from the West Southwest to the East Northeast. There is one main, paved road running along the island linking the towns of West End, Coxen Hole, French Harbor, Jonesville and Oakridge. Just east of Oakridge, the paved road ends and there are various dirt roads leading to other settlements on the island. Port Royal (usually shown as “New Port Royal” on maps) is a very large and nice harbor just east of Calabash Bight. There is no town or village in Port Royal, but there are maybe a dozen private vacation homes, owned by wealthy Americans and Europeans. There are also two resorts, Mango Creek, a fishing resort, and Royal Playa, a dive resort, in Port Royal. As there are no roads to any of these properties, all access is by boat from Oakridge. The climate is tropical and houses require pretty constant maintenance, else they deteriorate quickly. Since most of the property owners only visit for a few weeks out of the year, they hire caretakers to live on the property year-round and keep it maintained. Our friends Ralph and Tiffany had taken on a caretaker’s job in Port Royal, at the property known as Casa Gusto.

So, off we go to Port Royal, and there we stay throughout hurricane season. We had a list of projects we needed to do to the boat and Port Royal provided a very nice setting in which to do them. We replaced the propeller with a larger one, sized for the new engine we had installed back in Key Largo. We replaced all the screens in the hatches. We replaced all the hinges on the screens. We sanded and varnished all the exterior teak. We shined and waxed all the stainless. We scrubbed the hull numerous times. We stripped down and put a rebuild kit in the head. We did numerous other projects, large and small, all at a leisurely pace. The only drawback to doing projects in Port Royal is the ability to get supplies. To get from Port Royal to Oakridge, you have to go by boat outside the reef. In a good skiff or panga that can do 15 or 20 knots, it is only about a 15 minute trip. There is a hardware store in Oakridge that has a decent supply of stuff, but depending on what you need, you may have to go “down island,” which means going to French Harbor or Coxen Hole. You can leave your dinghy or skiff at a waterfront bar called BJ’s (more on BJ later) and from there you have to take a taxi or a bus. Taxis are expensive but fast, buses are cheap, but slow, take your pick. Of course if you can’t find what you need on the island, which is quite frequently the case, you have to get it shipped in from the States. If you are in a hurry, you can have it flown in via RAS (Roatan Air Service), which can be quite expensive, and you’ll have it about a week after it arrives at their Miami warehouse. If you aren’t in a hurry, you can get it via DIP Shipping, which costs roughly one dollar a pound and you usually get it two to three weeks after it arrives at their Miami warehouse. If you used RAS, you have to go to French Harbor to pick your stuff up. DIP Shipping will deliver it to your door, unless you live in Port Royal, in which case they can’t get to your door. They will deliver it to BJ’s, though, which is about as convenient as it gets in Roatan. Needless to say, we made many “down island” runs and we now know where to find just about anything that can be found in Roatan.

More about BJ’s. There is a waterfront bar in Oakridge called BJ’s Backyard, or just BJ’s for short. It is called BJ’s because it is owned by a woman called BJ, though I’ve no idea what the BJ stands for. It is sort of a Roatan institution. BJ is a native of the island, although she has at times lived other places, including the Florida Keys. Several books have been written about Roatan and BJ is mentioned in all of them. BJ herself seems to be a sort of Roatan institution. BJ is 59 years old and her significant other is an 80 year old man named Carmen who is from the Pascagoula, Mississippi area (Gautier I think, to be precise). Carmen has lived in Roatan I think since the 70’s, so he is an established local character as well. We have heard so many wild stories about BJ that we tended to discredit them, until just before we left Roatan, when another BJ story happened and now I pretty much believe all the other stories I’ve heard. One day we went into BJ’s and Carmen was there alone. We asked where BJ was and he said “Oh, she’s in the hospital under police guard.” It seems that an attractive younger woman from Trujillo, on the mainland, was in BJ’s one day having a beer. For whatever reason, she offered to buy a beer for Carmen. BJ seems to be quite territorial and definitely considers Carmen to be part of her territory, so she told the woman to leave her bar. The woman did not leave the bar, so BJ took a wire brush, like you use to scrub a BBQ grill, and hit her in the head with it (yes, with the bristle side, ouch). I assume that this put the woman in quite a foul temper, because instead of leaving the bar, she quite literally beat the crap out of BJ, and I don’t mean in a hair-pulling, biting, cat-fight kind of way, I mean in a bare-knuckle, knockdown, dra
g out, fistfight kind of way. Now I assume that this put BJ in an even fouler temper than she was before, so she got her trusty .38 pistol and shot the woman in the leg. Both BJ and the woman from Trujillo are taken to the hospital in Coxen Hole, but the woman walks out of the emergency room before even seeing a doctor and hasn’t been seen since. They kept BJ in the hospital for a couple of days. Since the woman didn’t press charges, they let her go home instead of to jail and when we saw her next she definitely looked like she had been in a fight. This story is just to give you a taste of the colorful atmosphere in Roatan.

A couple of months before the end of our stay in Roatan, Ralph and Tiffany decided to take a trip to the States. Actually, Tiff was already there, visiting her mother, when Ralph got a call from a former client in New York, where he had a marine services business. The client wanted Ralph to come back and install a Webasto heating system in his boat and was willing to pay enough that it was hard to refuse. The only problem was that he couldn’t leave Casa Gusto for two or three weeks with nobody to look after the place. That is how we got our first job in Roatan. Ralph hired us to look after Casa Gusto while he was gone and we moved ashore into the “casita,” the caretaker’s cottage next to the main house. It was a pretty easy job, Ralph had already taken care of most of the main problems, so all I really had to do was keep an eye on the battery bank (there is no electricity in Port Royal), keep an eye out for termites, and hunt for “wee-wee’s.” Wee-wee’s are cutter ants and they can strip a tree completely bare of leaves in just a couple of nights (they are only active at night, so that is when you hunt them).

About the time Ralph was planning his trip to New York, Terry and Patrice, the owners of Mango Creek Resort, were planning a trip to Colorado, where Patrice is from. They had made arrangements with a couple who are friends of theirs to look after Mango Creek while they were gone. Unfortunately, their friends decided to back out, due to the political turmoil happening in Honduras. Now they needed somebody to look after Mango Creek for a month while they were in the States, starting just a couple of days after Ralph and Tiffany were due to get back from the States. That is how we got our second job in Roatan. There were no guests booked for the time that Terry and Patrice were gone, so we wouldn’t have too much to do. Mainly we just had to live on the property (we stayed in one of the guest cabanas on the water), pick up the staff by boat on Monday mornings and drop them off on Friday afternoons, make regular “down island” trips for groceries, and handle any problems that might arise. The biggest problem that arose, however, was a personal problem. We got fat. Dalia is one of the cooks for Mango Creek and she prepared all our meals for us. She was trained by a chef from the U.S. and she is an excellent cook. Nancy helped create a recipe book for her of her favorite recipes, so of course, we had to try each and every thing in the recipe book, some of them more than once. I’m glad the job was only for one month, or else I would have had to buy new clothes. We actually quite enjoyed our time at Mango Creek. We watched movies every night on a big-screen TV. There is a real bristle dart board in the bar/restaurant, so I tossed lots of darts. One of the grocery stores in French Harbor sells Guinness, so I filled the fridge behind the bar with Guinness. Ralph would come over and we’d drink Guinness and toss darts. Mabel, Tai-tai, Randy, Perry, Manuel and Carlos, the rest of the Mango Creek staff, were very nice and we really enjoyed meeting and working with them. Take a look at the Mango Creek website, http://www.mangocreeklodge.com/, to see some pictures of the place. We were at Mango Creek over Thanksgiving, so we decided to get together with some of the other gringos in Port Royal and have Thanksgiving at Mango Creek. Ralph, Tiff and Max from Casa Gusto, Keith from Royal Playa, Kim and Joe from KiJo, along with their daughter and son-in-law, and Nancy and I had a very nice Thanksgiving dinner. Everybody brought a dish or two. Nancy cooked a Butterball turkey she found at the big grocery store in French Harbor and Dalia baked us some rolls.

By the time we finished up our tour of duty at Mango Creek, hurricane season was about over, so we started making plans to leave Honduras. We took the boat over to Calabash Bight for a couple of days to visit some more with Ed and Julie. Then it was back to Port Royal to say goodbye to Ralph, Tiff and Max. We had planned to leave on Saturday, December 5th, but Tiffany bribed us into staying one more day by making us a pecan pie. She had made the pumpkin and pecan pies for our Thanksgiving dinner and the pecan pie was really incredible (so was the pumpkin pie, but pecan is my favorite). She had found a recipe that didn’t require Karo syrup, which is very non-standard, but I think I may actually like it better than the traditional recipe. Pecan pie is definitely worth staying an extra day for.

We really weren’t too sure where we were going from Roatan until just a few days before we left. We toyed with the idea of going to Jamaica or the Cayman Islands, and then back to the States. We also considered going back to Mexico on the way back to the States. We knew we wanted to wind up back in the States for a while because we want to put some solar panels on the boat, get the boat hauled out and new anti-fouling paint put on the bottom, and various other projects that are much easier to do in the Land of Plenty. We just weren’t sure what route to take to get back. We finally decided on a direct route without any stops. We would sail directly from Roatan to Key West and we left on Sunday, December 6th.

We enjoyed our time in Roatan. The climate is great and we made lots of friends. We got a lot of little boat projects done and did a lot of diving. The only thing we won’t miss are the sand flies.

Rob’s Roatan Rendezvous

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

We had about a week between the end of Sabrina and Tom’s visit and Rob’s arrival on 2/21. We spent the time in a leisurely manner, as is our accustomed style. Ralph and Nancy finished up the scuba lessons and Nancy is now a PADI certified Open Water Diver. We stayed put in West End, Roatan and on Saturday the 21st, we met Rob at the Pura Vida Restaurant. It had been a year and quite a few miles since we’d seen Rob and it was very good to see him again.

We introduced him to Salva Vida, the local Honduran beer, and also to Ralph, Tiffany and Max, who popped into the restaurant to visit. That evening we just sat on the boat and visited and introduced Rob to Flor de Caña, the local Honduran rum, which mixed very well in his Cuba Libre’s. Rob and I went for our first dive Sunday morning just outside the reef at West End. The dive was an excellent one. We entered in 20 feet of water and swam through patch reef to the edge of the wall, where the reef drops off sharply to another slope at about 90 feet, and then drops sharply again to hundreds of feet deep. We followed the wall down to about 80 feet. We saw two hawksbill sea turtles on this dive, one of them quite large, along with lobsters and various kinds of reef fish such as french angelfish, parrotfish, blue tang, etc. Nancy and I had bought a digital camera with a waterproof case and I have started taking lots of pictures on our dives, so be sure to check out the Picture Gallery page. They aren’t professional-quality underwater pictures, of course, but they are still quite interesting. We went ashore to get provisions in the afternoon and saw Ralph, Tiffany and Max on their way back from Port Royal, where they’d gone for a job interview as caretakers of some property. We invited them to dinner that evening and Rob fixed boiled shrimp, rice and beans, guacamole and pico de gallo.

Monday was a rainy day so we didn’t go diving. Rob made some excellent shrimp scampi burritos with the boiled shrimp left over from the previous day. Tuesday morning the sun was out and we went diving. Ralph and Tiffany heard that they got the caretaking job, so we invited them over for dinner to celebrate. Rob made shrimp salad and pasta with your choice of putanesca sauce or clam sauce and Tiffany brought over a boat pie for desert.

Wednesday we motor-sailed to Parrot Tree Marina in Second Bight, just east of French Harbor. We spent the night in the marina in order to fill our water tanks and top the batteries off on shore power. Thursday we sailed to Calabash Bight to meet up with our friends Ed and Julie, whom we hadn’t seen for about 3 years, since we visited them on Free Radical in St. Marten. It was very exciting to see them again and they invited us over to Spirit of Free Radical for dinner. They still have Free Radical, their monohull, and have since bought a catamaran they named Spirit of Free Radical, which they have been fixing up for most of the past year. They are pretty much finished and have done a wonderful job fixing it up.

Friday morning Rob got a tour of Free Radical and we went for a dive later in the morning. After the dive, Ed and Julie accompanied us into the town of Oak Ridge and showed us around. From Calabash Bight, you can dinghy through a canal into Fiddler’s Bight, across Fiddler’s Bight and through another canal into Oak Ridge Harbor, and then across the Harbor into the town of Oak Ridge itself. Rob bought some pork chops to grill and we invited Ed and Julie over to Stolen Child for dinner.

Saturday morning Rob and Nancy dinghied into Oak Ridge for the vegetable market and then Rob and I went diving in the afternoon. Rob fixed lobster tails, spanish rice and candied carrots for dinner Sunday morning we left Calabash and motor-sailed to Guanaja, the next island east of Roatan. We anchored just west of Bonacca. Guanaja is the easternmost of the Bay Islands. Christopher Columbus landed here on his fourth and final voyage to the New World in 1502. There are approximately 10,000 people living on Guanaja, 8,000 of which live in Bonacca. Bonacca is the capital of Guanaja and is a tiny cay less than 100 acres in size. All the houses and structures are two and three stories tall and many of them are built over the water on stilts. It is quite interesting to see, but quickly looses its appeal after a few hours. We spent a couple of days there and met up with some very interesting and colorful local characters, but were glad to leave on Tuesday and head to Graham’s Cay, just a couple of miles away to the east.

Just as we were approaching Graham’s Cay, we saw a cruise ship entering the harbor. We picked up a mooring ball just off Graham’s Cay and watched as the cruise ship anchored near us and began ferrying crew, food and passengers ashore to Graham’s Cay. Nancy found out later from one of the women from the cruise ship that it is actually owned by the passengers, who each buy a condominium-sized chunk of the ship. There were 107 owner-passengers aboard and I would assume that there were almost that many who were not aboard. Every year the owners get together and figure out where the ship is going for the year and many of them live aboard all year round. It sounds quite interesting, but I have to think the operating costs would be very high. We had dinner ashore and just relaxed in the cockpit that evening. I woke up at 1:00 in the morning, as I often do, and checked the boat over, paying particular attention to the mooring line. Everything looked fine and I went back to bed. About 5:30 I woke up when I heard an unfamiliar bump. I went topside to discover that we were no longer moored and had drifted almost ashore. This is what you call an “Oh, Sh*t!” moment. I fired up the engine and quickly motored us away from shore with no harm done, other than using up my monthly allotment of adrenaline. Apparently sometime between 1:00 and 5:30, some chop had built up in the harbor and caused the mooring line to chafe through, setting us adrift. I knew when we picked up the mooring that I should have put some chafe gear on the line. Just one of several reasons why I’d much rather anchor than pick up a mooring. We decided that we’d had enough of Guanaja and headed back to Roatan, arriving in French Cay Harbor about 15:00, Wednesday afternoon.

After we got anchored in French Cay Harbor, Rob and I took the scuba tanks to Coco View Resort to get them filled. We got the distinct impression from the lady who runs the place that she’d rather not be bothered with it, but said they’d do it if we had current hydrostatic testing stamps and visual inspection stickers. Our hydro stamps were good, but they were out of date for visual, so she turned us over to a guy named Doc, who said they could inspect them for $15 per tank. We needed them filled, so we said ok. Doc was nice enough to let us borrow a couple of their full tanks so we could dive the next morning.

Rob and I went for two dives on Thursday. In the morning, we went outside the entrance to French Harbor and dove the wreck of a freighter named Mr Bud, which is right on the edge of the wall in about 50 feet of water. Mr Bud is a rather small freighter and it hasn’t been down long enough to have lots of interesting coral growing on it, but it was still a very interesting dive. We saw a stingray, a grouper and a very large sea slug, in addition to the usual reef fish. After the dive, we took the loaner tanks back to Coco View to swap for our tanks, but they weren’t ready yet, so Doc let us borrow a couple more full tanks and we next dove the wall outside the entrance to Coco View. This was a pretty spectacular dive site. The mooring ball is in about 20 feet of water right at the edge of the wall, which descends vertically down to about 80 feet, where it descends more gradually for a while before taking another vertical plunge. There are lots of crevasses and overhangs and we saw some large crabs, lobsters and queen angelfish, among other reef fish. Rob fixed shrimp scampi burritos and spanish rice for dinner and I ate until I was ready to pop. The shrimp scampi he fixes is very good all by itself, but then he puts a tortilla in a frying pan with a little butter to crisp it a little on the outside and while it is in the pan, he puts cheese, onion, tomato, avocado, shrimp scampi and probably some other good stuff on the tortilla. Shake a little hot sauce on that and roll it up and eat it with some spanish rice and wash it down with an ice cold Salva Vida and life just doesn’t get any better.

Friday we returned to Coco View and two of our four tanks were almost ready, so we waited around for them to be filled, then went to dive the Prince Albert wreck. Unfortunately, the wreck lies in the channel into Coco View and the visibility was very poor. There is also a crashed DC-3 airplane near the Prince Albert wreck and we came across the DC-3 before we made it to the Prince Albert. Since the visibility was so poor, we decided to abort the wreck dive and go back to the wall we had dove the previous day. We had another spectacular dive on the wall for Rob’s last dive before flying back to real life on Saturday. We were just returning from the dive as Daydream was pulling into French Cay Harbor and I dove their anchor for them since I was already wet and had my gear handy. Friday evening we went into French Harbor and ate dinner at a nice restaurant named Romeo’s. Saturday was another somber goodbye day. Rob got all packed up in the morning and caught a taxi for the airport a little after noon. I’m really glad we got certified for scuba and bought our equipment because I think it really added an extra dimension to Rob’s visit. He hadn’t been diving in years and really enjoyed it. I know that we really enjoyed having him aboard and are looking forward to his next visit. We are also hoping for more visitors while we are here, as this is an exceptional spot to visit and it is pretty easy to get flights in and out from most anywhere in the States.

Sabrina and Tom’s Excellent Adventure

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Saturday morning, February 7, we left Parrot Tree Marina and sailed back to French Harbor. I picked up our pack mules, I mean our guests, Tom and Sabrina at the Roatan airport in the afternoon. They had graciously brought us a lot of boat stuff we had ordered. There was so much stuff that one of their bags had started to come apart at the seams, so Tom had whipped out some duct tape he just happens to travel with and effected an emergency repair en route (this guy is a natural cruiser). Airport security in Roatan was about to inspect that particular bag when Sabrina cautioned him “be careful, that bag is about to explode.” Fortunately, Roatan is a pretty laid-back kind of place and the security guy got a chuckle out of her choice of words. Not only did they bring us all the stuff we had ordered and the mail we’d had shipped to them, they packed a bunch of goodies for us, too, such as peanut M&M;’s, York peppermint patties, a Paddy O’Quigley’s T-shirt, a couple of half-pint Guinness glasses, and lots of other great stuff from the Land of Plenty.

After getting them settled aboard, we went ashore for dinner and provisioning. We ate at a nice little restaurant and introduced them to Salva Vida, one of the local beers. There were only two tables in the restaurant and the other one was empty, but the food was great. After dinner, we stopped at a street-side stand selling fresh produce and got plenty of fresh fruit and veggies. They had these very large fruit objects they claimed were papayas. They were much bigger than papayas we had seen elsewhere, as big as a small watermelon. We bought one of the large fruit objects, some avocados, limes, a cantaloupe, some bananas and various other fresh things, then headed to the grocery store and got the rest of our provisions. After returning to Stolen Child and stowing the provisions, we dinghied over to Jupiter’s Smile to visit with Jay and Barb. Jupiter’s Smile is an Island Packet, which is one of the boats Tom and Sabrina are considering when they start cruising. We had a great visit with Jay and Barb. Sabrina and Tom have a Catalina 30 that they sail on Lake Perry in Kansas, and it turns out that the people they bought their Catalina from are good friends of Jay and Barb.

Sunday morning we carved up the large fruit object and Nancy made breakfast burritos for breakfast. The papaya was so large we only sliced half of it and I put out a call on the VHF to see if any of the other boats in French Harbor wanted the other half, which was promptly claimed by the folks on Pearl S. Buck. The weather was a little overcast and drizzly, but after breakfast we weighed anchor and set out for West End, Roatan. Practically all week before Sabrina and Tom arrived, the wind had been blowing 15 to 20 knots from the northeast and I was looking forward to a really good sail to West End. Unfortunately, and as so often happens, when we got out of French Harbor there was less than 5 knots of wind and we wound up motoring the whole way. We arrived at West End in the early afternoon and picked up a mooring. In West End they have put in a dozen or so moorings, which are basically permanent anchors, and attached a mooring ball, or float to them, so that boats don’t have to set their own anchor and consequently dig up the turtle grass on the bottom. You simply drive the boat up to the mooring ball and pass your dock line through the mooring line hanging under the mooring ball. There is usually stiff competition for moorings in West End, but we managed to get the mooring closest to the reef so that we could snorkel directly from the boat out to the reef. A boat named “Watch And Sea” was moored close to us, with Ben aboard single-handing. We had been in radio contact with Ben off and on since southern Mexico, but we’d never met him in person, so he dinghied over for a few beers and stayed for the spaghetti dinner Nancy had made. Ben is really nice and it was good to finally meet him in person. He’s an airline pilot who had taken a couple months of vacation and was now on his way back to the States and real life.

Monday morning dawned overcast and drizzly. I made pancakes for breakfast and by late morning the sky had cleared and we went ashore. West End is a very pleasant little village that is geared to scuba diving with more than a dozen dive shops. There is one street that runs parallel to the beach and isn’t paved, but is packed sand. We had lunch at a restaurant on stilts over the harbor and then went back to the boat for some snorkeling on the reef. There was a school of squid in the water right next to the boat. At sunset we got out the sextant and Tom practiced taking sights on Venus and several stars.

Tuesday dawned clear and sunny. Nancy made breakfast burritos while Tom and I put on the sail cover (something I’m quite lazy about doing). After breakfast Tom and I rigged up the Stolen Child Super Duper Rope Swing. We rigged up the whisker pole (a telescoping aluminum pole for holding one corner of a sail in a certain position away from the boat) with the end out over the water just forward of the beam on the port side with a 3/4″ dock line hanging from it. Next we lashed a 2×6 plank across the bow rail. You stand out on the end of the plank (walking the plank, so to speak) holding the rope hanging from the whisker pole and launch yourself out over the water. At the top of the rope’s far swing, you let go and execute your fanciest dive or belly-flop, whichever the case may be, into the water. We’re the only boat in Roatan with a Super Duper Rope Swing and I think Tom and Sabrina were duly impressed with the skill and determination we put into having fun. We went ashore in the afternoon for beers and a late lunch. Tuesday night we stayed up quite late debating politics, religion and philosophy. In other words, we drank a lot and talked a lot of trash.

Wednesday morning we saw the boat next to us, Beau Soleil, rigging its spinnaker for some spinnaker riding. What you do is turn your boat around at anchor, so that the anchor is attached to the stern instead of the bow, which makes your bow point downwind. Then you can fly the spinnaker (a big sail for downwind sailing) from the bow and someone can sit on a line tied between the two bottom corners of the sail. As the wind fills the sail, it will pick the person up out of the water and lift them pretty high, perhaps 20 feet or so. I went over and introduced myself to Mike and Karen and their son Falcon (so named because he was born in Malta). Falcon is about 20 years old and was on vacation visiting his folks. I invited him over to try out the rope swing and he came over later that morning to give it a try. Another boat moored near us, Aventur, was an Island Packet and the owners had heard that Sabrina and Tom were interested in Island Packets and had invited them over to see their boat. Sabrina and Tom dinghied over to take a look at Aventur in the early afternoon while we waited for Daydream to arrive from Utila. There weren’t any moorings available when Daydream showed up, so I snorkeled over to hand-set their anchor for them when they arrived. After they got settled in, Ralph, Tiffany and Max came over and we had a nice reunion. I was glad they made it over in time to meet Tom and Sabrina and they invited them over to Daydream to, in Ralph’s words, “take a look at a pretty boat.” After dinner, Ralph came back over and we sat in the cockpit sipping rum and Kahlua until about 2:30 in the morning. I had learned how to tie Turks Head knots from a book I had aboard and I had tied some on my wheel to mark the center position of the rudder. Ralph liked them and I loaned him the book and he’s now become a Turks Head fanatic. He taught Tom how to tie them and in the process, wound up tying Turks Heads on my furling lines and jib sheets. I think I still haven’t found all the Turks heads he tied that night.

Thursday morning Tom made pancakes for breakfast and then it was time for them to pack up for their trip back to real life. We took them ashore around noon to catch a cab to the airport. Nobody broke down and cried, but it was a pretty somber farewell. Nancy and I really enjoyed having them aboard and hope it won’t be too long before they visit again.

Hello Honduras

Friday, February 6th, 2009

Friday, January 23, we left Northeast Sapodilla Cay bound for Laguna El Diamante, Honduras. We had very light but favorable wind most of the way and also a favorable current. Unfortunately, Daydream developed what appeared to be a transmission problem on the way. His engine would occasionally rev up as though the clutch plates were slipping. Since the wind was so light we were motor-sailing as we needed to make it through the entrance to the lagoon before dark. Due to Daydream’s transmission problem, though, Ralph didn’t want to run his engine until just before reaching the entrance, so we went ahead to make the entrance before dark and then stood by waiting to guide Daydream in with a spotlight in the dinghy when they arrived after dark. The entrance to El Diamante is very scenic. The Honduran coastline is low foothills leading to mountains in the distance. To enter El Diamante, you pass through a moderately narrow gap in the shoreline, with the forested hills rising perhaps 100 feet on either side. There is also a very large rock outcropping in the middle of the entrance, so the moderately narrow gap has now become decidedly narrow. It looks a little scary at first, particularly because the water is muddy and you can’t see the bottom to watch out for submerged rocks, but it is really a quite easy entrance to navigate. Inside the lagoon you are in a large, very well-protected body of water surrounded by 100 foot hills, densely wooded with palms and tropical hardwoods. The bottom is quite muddy, which means the anchor holds really well, so you could ride out quite a strong blow in this lagoon. Daydream arrived about an hour after dark and I met them at the entrance in the dinghy, shining a spotlight on the rocks to either side of the channel. Tiffany was on the bow with a spotlight as well, so they made it in pretty easy and didn’t have to push the transmission very hard. Ralph and Tiffany have helped us out so many times that it was nice to be able to help them a little.

Ralph had had problems with his transmission before, and just happened to have a spare transmission aboard. The spare had good internals, but the housing had a repaired crack and so was slightly questionable. Ralph decided to swap the internals, figuring it was either the plates or thrust washers that were the problem. Saturday he performed surgery on the transmission and it seemed a success, based on how the input and output shafts felt (smooth and easy spinning, but almost zero end-play or run-out). He used a liquid gasket material to seal the housing together, so we decided to stay another day and allow the sealant to cure before putting transmission fluid in and bolting it back on the engine. While he worked on the transmission, Nancy, Tiffany, Max and I went ashore and followed a short path through the mangroves and jungle to a neighboring bay to the east. The neighboring bay, Bahia Escondido, has a nice beach and we strolled the beach and found some very nice seashells. Nancy made some incredible dinner using pork tenderloin, jerk seasoning, and apricot marmelade. Another boat, 40 Mile, with Grant single-handing, arrived Sunday and was also bound for Utila. Sunday Ralph installed the repaired transmission and gave it a little test and it seemed to work fine.

Monday morning Daydream, 40 Mile and Stolen Child formed a little flotilla leaving El Diamante bound for Utila. The wind was again very light, but still favorable and we were able to average 5 knots motor-sailing. Unfortunately and unbelievably, Daydream started experiencing the same symptoms as before. Ralph and I were both scratching our heads. I knew that a fuel filter that is starting to get clogged up will cause the engine to surge in RPM, particularly when advancing the throttle, so I suggested he change his fuel filter, just to rule that out as a possibility. He changed out the filter and bingo, the problem disappeared. Ralph said I’m now his hero and he’ll buy all my beer for the rest of my life. Well, that’s not exactly what he said, but little kids may read this blog, so I won’t print what he really said, and I’m sure that is what he really meant to say.

Isla Utila, Honduras is a really neat, kind of funky island. The entire economy of the island is based around scuba diving and they cater largely to the young backpacker-type of crowd. We checked in with the Port Captain and Immigration on Tuesday and began exploring the town, staying a week before moving on to Roatan. We found a really nice little restaurant, the Cafe Mariposa, and met the manager, Jeff. I had shrimp grilled in a coconut rum sauce on a bed of saffron rice that was incredibly good. Best of all, from 4:00 to 6:00 beers are 20 lempira, or roughly a buck a beer. The coffee is also excellent.

Thursday I helped Ralph move a mooring. Ralph used to be a diving instructor in Utila years ago and had sunk an old engine block in the bay to use as a mooring. He found the engine block and wanted to move it a little further out and reuse it as a mooring. He rounded up 3 plastic drums to use for flotation and while we were moving it we met Louis from the catamaran Simpatica, who came over to give us a hand. Friday Ralph and I went diving with the dive boat from Paradise Divers dive shop, where he used to work as an instructor. He had stopped by Thursday afternoon and helped them rebuild some of their dive gear, and said they needed some 2-inch nylon webbing to replace their weight belts, which he knew I had a supply of. They let us dive for free since he had helped repair their gear and I had given them a bunch of webbing. We dove a site on the north side of the island named Duppy Waters, which is a wall dive. The sea floor goes from about 30 feet to over 600 feet almost vertically. We descended the wall to about 140′ and there was still no end in sight. There was an incredible amount of coral growing all up and down the wall, much more than we had seen on the wall in Belize we had dove. We also dove a site on the southeast of the island called Ted’s Point that has some really neat spur and groove coral formations and also the wreck of a 40′ sailboat. Sunday we went to Daydream for dinner r="0" />and to say goodbye to Ralph and Tiffany as we were planning to leave for Roatan Monday. Another boat in the bay had caught more fish than they could eat and gave some fish steaks to Ralph and Tiff, which they shared with us for dinner.

We left Utila early Monday morning, February 2, bound for French Cay Harbor on the island of Roatan, Honduras. We arrived after a 9-hour motor-sail and anchored near Jupiter’s Smile. We had met Jay and Barb aboard Jupiter’s Smile on our way from Dry Tortugas to Isla Mujeres. We had really enjoyed their company in Isla Mujeres and it was really nice to see them again. We had them over for coffee Monday evening. Tuesday we went ashore to Eldon’s, the grocery store in French Harbor. I can hardly contain my excitement as I write this, because at Eldon’s, they not only had Little Debbie Nutty Bars, they had cases of Guinness Draught!!! That was several days ago as I write this, and I still have a huge ear-to-ear grin. I haven’t had a Guinness since we left Key West, way back in April of 2008, but now I have a case of them in the fridge. I am also quite a fan of Little Debbie, which I have not found in Mexico or Belize, where the leading brand of snack food is Bimbo, and it should be obvious that a Bimbo just can’t compare to a Little Debbie (no, I’m not making that name up, Bimbo makes most of the sandwich bread and snack foods around here).

Wednesday we went ashore with Jay and Barb and explored French Harbor, then in the evening went to happy hour at Coco View Resort and met folks from some of the other boats anchored in French Cay Harbor. Thursday morning (this morning as I write this entry) we waited for a squall to pass, then weighed anchor and got underway for the short trip to Parrot Tree Marina in Second Bight, Roatan. It only took us about an hour to get here and it would have been a great sail had we been going the other direction, but unfortunately we were heading into 15 to 20 knot northeast trade-winds. It was such a short trip we didn’t bother putting up the main, we just motored out of French Harbor and then put out the jib and sailed as close to the wind as we could without backwinding the jib, then tacked onto starboard tack and entered Second Bight. On the way we crossed paths with Ben aboard Watch And Sea, who we had shared an anchorage with in Bahia de La Espiritu Santo, Mexico. We had only talked via the radio, not in person, and were hoping to meet him in Roatan. He was headed from Guanaja to French Harbor, and then to West End before heading north again. We are hoping to meet up with him in West End while Sabrina and Tom are aboard. We are also hoping Ralph, Tiffany and Max make it over to West End from Utila while we are there. We travelled in company with them for over a month and we’ve really missed them these last few days.

Tomorrow we will take advantage of our shore power hook-up here at the dock and do some heavy-duty cleaning on the boat before Sabrina and Tom arrive. They fly in Saturday and we are really looking forward to seeing them. We’ll pick them up at the airport and get them aboard Saturday, then Sunday we plan to sail down to West End. The beaches, restaurants, snorkeling and diving are all supposed to be excellent at West End, and I think they will enjoy the sail down there. We’ve had several cold fronts blow through in the last week, bringing rainy, squally weather, but that is supposed to have all cleared up by this weekend and we should have excellent weather for their visit. My next log entry should be shortly after their visit.