Friday, May 28, 2010

Michael's Rock

We are at the perfect location on the island of Guanaja. Michael's Rock. It is on the north western side of the island and is absolutely picture perfect. On Tuesday, we left El Bight and circled around the northeastern tip of the island. We made it safely through an area marked on the charts as "dangerous swells" - and there were some pretty big swells - wouldn't want to cross that area in crappy weather - but we made it comfortably. We motor sailed the first hour and then sailed the rest of the way until we had to cut back through the reef. We are anchored in a nice thick sand patch right off a lovely white sand beach and the rock for which the area is named - Michael's rock.

There is just us and another boat that came around with us - Ivory Moon - an Island Packet 35 for all our IP friends. We took the northern route and they sailed the southern route. We edged them out into the anchorage by just a bit. We were able to sail a bit longer than they could. We'll go back the southern route so we'll have circumnavigated Guanaja.

There are great reefs that we can snorkel just a short swim off Astarte. The reefs are very colorful with a wide variety of hard and soft corals in interesting formations. We've seen lots of the dreaded - but beautiful - lion fish here. One hole had three very large ones inside. We've seen eagle rays, giant southern stingrays, lots of small grouper, snappers, and a wide variety of colorful tropical fish. There are lots of small jelly fish around - luckily not the stinging variety. We've enjoyed long swims and snorkels in very clear water the last few days.

This morning, we hiked up to a waterfall. It was a bit of a conundrum - the sign says waterfall (actually it says watehrfall) with an arrow and right next to it is a no trespassing sign. We went up the trail along a brook/stream. It was very jungly and interesting. The path was pretty clearly marked up to a point - then Michael went one way (a high rocky climb) and Barbara headed down towards the stream in search of the path. The stream had a small waterfall at one point - and Michael climbed a bit higher but decided the rope along a rock cliff would be too treacherous to tackle. So we enjoyed the small waterfall and fresh water pools before heading back. The bugs were hungry and we moved quickly out of the jungle. We did see a pretty remarkable turquoise blue and bright green lizard, along with several other lizards, hummingbirds, some fresh water fish and lots of interesting trees. It was a good hike.

This is a really pretty area and we are glad we came around the island. Not too many homes or "civilization" here - though around the bend there is the Green Flash Bar and another bar - Brian's. It's Friday night - so we may see if they're open later.

We've enjoyed several nights of good company with Jeff and Lelia of Ivory Moon over good margaritas, snacks and a curry dinner. They are fun folks from Australia - and we know the folks from down under know how to party!

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Elephant Balls. Mango Eating Horses. Voracious Bugs.

Got your attention, eh? A few days ago, we went on a short hike to Hans' farm on Guanaja. It's just behind his bar up the hill and six of us trekked there. He has an amazing piece of property (180 acres), filled with all types of interesting fruit trees, gardens and animals.

One tree had small red fruits on it that looked a bit like grape tomatoes. They were quite sweet and juicy. There were many varieties of mangoes - many with ripe fruit - so we loaded up some sacks. One tree was this large leafed tree with large green, hard fruits growing. He told us these are called "elephant balls" and are used to make a tea when cooked and can also be eaten (after cooking) like an apple. We brought one back to the boat but haven't indulged yet. There were kumquats and limes plus some wild plums. The veggie garden had lots of watermelons, green beans and hot peppers as well as squashes, potatoes, plus some exotic Aftrican plant that the leaves, stems and roots are all edible.

There were horses in a nearby field and when let in the gate, they came stampeding down the hill to munch on mangoes. The funniest thing was to watch them actually peel the mangoes with their teeth. They would eat the skin first, then chew what was left of the fruit and discard the seed! The farm has a fish pond where tilapia is being raised; ducks for eggs and eating; chickens, pigeons and doves. It was quite an undertaking.

The unfortunate part of the walk around the farm was the number of bugs that enjoyed a feast on our bodies. We came back covered in bites though we all were careful to put spray on before we went. I guess they are immune to Deet.

It was a treat to see the farm and do a little walking around. Hans' is quite a character.

With all the mangoes (many of which were very ripe), Barbara baked up some mango bread. We've enjoyed socializing with the folks from "Liberty" and a couple from "Ivory Moon", sharing a few beers and dinners. We had dinner at the other Hans' restaurant - Michael tried some of their homemade German sausages.

Tonight it's pizza night at "little" Hans' and though we dread the bugs, there are about five boats planning on going so we'll probably join in the festivities. The pizzas are actually cooked over an open wood fire on a grill.

Tomorrow, we're hoping the wind settles so we can get to the other side of the island and a place called Michael's Rock. It's supposed to have amazing reefs and a nice hike to a waterfall. "Ivory Moon" will also be heading over - so we'll look forward to more time with this Aussie couple.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Slow Go to Guanaja

On Wednesday, we decided to make the trip to Guanaja - 25 miles away from Port Royal, Roatan. It was a grey day and the winds had calmed a bit from the gusty night so we decided to make the motor/sail. The winds would be on the nose - but the seas seemed to have calmed enough to go. It was a slow go and took almost seven hours to make the 25 miles and anchor at El Bight on Guanaja.

Now, we'll explore this island - one of Honduras' Bay Islands. We'll try to go to the other side of the island and several of the other anchorages.

On Thursday, we went into the settlement of Bonacca which is an interesting place. It's a crowded little island with houses and shops on top of each other and Venice-like canals that run through the community. There is a "garbage boat" that is moored to a dock and you can toss your bagged garbage in it to burn - so we took advantage of getting rid of two bags. It's very convenient and a great service which helps keep the island and area waters relatively clean.

The weekly supply boat had come in late the day before so veggies, fruit, eggs and other stuff were being delivered as we roamed through town with our long list of projects. It was a good day to be in town! We went to the alternator shop trying to get our broken one repaired. But, as is typical in the islands, the repairman went off to mainland Honduras for carnival and has been gone a month! He may or may not be back. So we continued to carry the heavy alternators around. We also were looking for a pepper grinder - ours bit the dust - and we have no pepper other than peppercorns on board. No joy on a pepper grinder - but we did find ground pepper. We did a quick internet check, picked up some of those veggies that were being delivered, and a fresh French bread - right out of the oven. We also bought fish for tonight's dinner. No luck finding a chain hook - but it was fun watching Michael draw pictures of it for various shops. We have to remember to bring the things in that we are looking for!

Thursday night as we were getting dinner ready - we were out of propane. That shouldn't have happened as it was a new tank less than two weeks ago. (a tank usually lasts us about 5 to 6 weeks). Lots of baking, cooking and grilling have been going on as we hadn't eaten out at all - but two weeks was very strange. So as we switched tanks, we found a leak. Bad news (and good news!) - couldn't cook tonight.

We went to shore with some friends from another boat who've been in the area for some time, stopping first at a little bar that's near a few containers run by Hans. He's an interesting character - a German who's been on the island for more than 20 years. His young son works with him in this very funky bar. He also works a farm up the road and invited us (along with the folks from the sailboat Liberty) to go see the farm and the best part - pick up a bunch of mangoes!!! Then we left Hans' to go to the Hans' restaurant and bar. Yup, two Hans' with places on little Guanaja. This place, called Manatees, is a bit more upscale - they actually have ice for the drinks - and we had a really nice dinner there.

Michael has also become a "net controller" for the Northwest Caribbean Net. This is one of those morning radio networks on the SSB hosted by and designed for sharing information amongst cruisers. He'll do Thursdays until we leave the area. The responsibility includes hosting a morning net at 0800 local time and an evening net at 1745. This allows boats underway to check in and share their position and weather conditions. Plus there are lots of QSTs (questions) and information about checking in to countries, safety issues, anchorages, weather, local professionals like dentists or doctors etc. He did a terrific job (Barbara's opinion and she's really critical!)

On Friday morning the first order of business was to get the propane system working. Waking up with no option for coffee makes one move into action! Plus it's Friday and if we don't get it done today - it may not be before Monday to find someone in town or a store open for the needed parts. Now Michael has lots and lots of spares on board and can probably rig something to work - but it would be best to try to get the fitting pressed on properly because it is propane and high pressure. If he can't get it fixed in town, Hans' (the first funky bar proprietor) offered to look at it.

Glad we discovered the problem here before we got into the reef areas where we'll be headed from here. No islands, no shops, no propane etc.

Oh, and Yoshi also seems to be acting up. (Yoshi is the outboard with a personality all of his own!)

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Lots of Chain

We're stuck in the sand in Roatan. We have a lot of chain out on the anchor as it has been a squally, windy few days with a few more days ahead. We were in Port Royal - on the western end near Mango Creek Lodge and made the move to the eastern end of Port Royal yesterday (Monday). It was just a short motor that we handled between some squalls. We think there might be a bit less chop in the water as we can get closer to the reef for protection - less fetch. But last night we did anchor watches through most of the night as the winds got very gusty and we were pulling good on that anchor chain. There seems to be a low, a trough and a tropical wave all converging in some fashion in the Caribbean and creating lots of squalls throughout the area.

The wind has kept us on board with a short snorkel break at one point. It was a good snorkel though the visibility was a bit dodgy with all the silt kicked up from the wind and waves. But it was good to get in the water and see some fish.

So what do you do on board when you're stuck? Michael has been re-sewing and re-engineering some of the canvas covers - extending them so they cover more hatches and perhaps we can keep windows open below them. We are prepping for a hot, rainy summer in Panama. We've been doing some boat cleaning and baking. Barbara baked bread the other day from a cruiser's recipe that almost took over the oven. It was kind of like the blob - it kept growing and growing and sliding over the top of the bread pan. It was weird looking but tasty.

We've played some dominoes with some other boaters (for the few days before the winds really started kicking up) and had a wonderful potluck with other boaters. We're both reading a lot - Michael's now tackling Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography and Barbara's reading Stieg Larrson's series - "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and "The Girl Who Played with Fire" (which Michael had just finished) She also just finished Three Cups of Tea (an inspiring story).

We're in an area of Roatan (and have been for more than a week) where there are no stores so we're living off our supplies. The last of the fresh fruit and veggies are gone (and our tomatoes haven't yet started to produce red things). We have hoped for local fishermen with a fresh supply of fish - but it seems the winds must be keeping them in port as well.

Getting to the next island - Guanaja (where we cleared into the country) is our destination. But it is taking us quite a long time to make that 30 mile trip because of the weather. We're hoping to spend some time there and then start heading south again. We'd like to explore several of the anchorages, especially one called Michael's Rock which is supposed to be incredible (plus the name!) We'll see.

We may be anchored with lots of chain in Roatan for awhile.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Cruising Couples

We've met so many interesting people over the past 15 months. Each boat seems to have its' own tale to tell and the stories are fascinating. Last night at an event on shore at a lovely eco resort, Mango Creek, someone asked Barbara if this was Michael's dream or hers. It led to a great discussion about cruising, couples and fulfilling dreams.

Most of the folks on boats tend to be cruising couples. There are a few families cruising and certainly single-handers. But the challenges for couples aboard make interesting stories. In many cases, sailing (or cruising for those trawlers) seems to be the man's dream and the woman goes along. This doesn't always create the best of environments. One party isn't 100% on board or happy much of the time. This tends to be the case particularly when kids or grandchildren are in the picture. Those boats tend to be what we've termed "commuter cruisers." People who spend some part of each year aboard - usually in the same general cruising area (the San Blas, Eastern Caribbean, Virgin Islands, Bahamas, Honduras/Belize) - and then leave their boat someplace for several months and head "back home." Some of these folks have been doing it for decades this way and it seems to keep both parties aboard happy.

The full time cruisers stay on their boats year-round and often cruise a greater range of water. Many are on a multi-year plan, or a slow circumnavigation and stay and enjoy a cruising territory for as long as their interests last. In these cases, the dream seems to belong to both the man and the woman. They make a commitment to the lifestyle and each other about cruising.

Now, living in a small area (in our case we have a 42 foot by 13 foot boat - and that's the dimensions on the outside!), often without the option of just walking out the door and getting away, can sometimes be daunting. The full time cruising couples we've met are some of the most connected and happy people we've met. They seem to be strong individuals yet a great team because they have this mutual dream.

A few stories: one couple has been aboard for well over 20 years. They originally raised their family aboard a boat (at a dock) until the kids were high school aged. After the kids had grown and left, they went back aboard to do more cruising. He gets sea sick. She won't go swimming. Yet they love being on the boat and enjoy the lifestyle.

Another couple is traveling from Europe and they crossed the Atlantic. They both love snorkeling and diving. They have grown kids back home and yet seem completely happy aboard experiencing new countries and cultures. They like moving slowly - settling into an area and enjoying what it has to offer. They luckily can also do some inland travel to explore some of the countries where they sail. We've met many couples who do this - leaving their boat in a safe place for a few weeks and then trekking inland to ancient ruins, waterfalls, rainforests or cities.

One couple we know that is in the process of circumnavigating spent years building their own boat. They sold everything they had - house, cars etc and took off when the boat was "finished." They've sailed through the canal and are on their way to the South Pacific. It's amazing - he doesn't even like fish! Plus, they both get a tad seasick - but they have the dream of taking the boat they built themselves around the globe and are a cool couple.

There are as many stories as boats out here and whether someone is sailing full time, or part time - they are doing it together.

For the record - this is as much Barbara's dream as it is Michael's.

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Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

To our mothers and to our relatives and friends who are mothers - we wish you each a very special day. We're thinking of you and sending lots of hugs.

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Crisis in Roatan

There's the oil spill devastating the Gulf of Mexico; floods destroying homes in Nashville; volcanic ash in the atmosphere from Iceland. And here in Roatan - another crisis.

NO beer in Roatan grocery stores. That's right - we're on Day Three in search of beer and the shelves remain empty. And our bilges are also empty with only a few left in the refrigerator. It is a sad sight in those stores - rows and rows of empty shelves. We even trekked to the store further away and still no joy. It was the talk of the potluck last night. A true crisis amongst sailors. The local bars are happy as they seem to have a good supply of bottled beer.

Hope it ends soon or the captain will start getting grumpy(er).

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Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Honduran Boat Bounce

There is an interesting style of boat driving here in Honduras. There are lots of small water taxis, personal skiffs and open launches of all types. Most have a good sized outboard for power. Many of the boats do this funky "bounce" as they move through the water. The bow of the boat bounces up and than slams the water in a very rhythmic fashion. It has to be on purpose as some even have a person in the bow helping it gain some altitude by jumping up and down as the boat jumps up and down. It's fun to watch - but kind of crazy. Perhaps it's the on water version of those soupped up cars that bounce up and down and popular in East LA.

As with every country, there are always fun and different things to see. That's why we travel.

The winds have picked up as predicted and are expected to continue to grow over the next few days. We're settled into West End - a good place to sit out strong south easterlies. On the morning radio net - we're hearing it's pretty rolly on the other side of the island - as waves are breaking over the protective reefs.

Michael has put on lots of pictures on the web and even managed to caption many of them. Enjoy.

Happy May Day!

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