Saturday, June 26, 2010

Craziness in Catalina Harbour

Yesterday's fiesta festivities included a small boat parade. We decided to take our dinghy over to the beach in Old Town where the parade was supposed to begin. At 2:30 pm, the start time in the brochure, the boat floats (small boats with a few balloons) were still at the dock being decorated. Then around 4 pm, they just sort of made there way out into the harbor in a much disorganized fashion and proceeded to organize quite a ways from our viewing point. So we went to follow them to get a better look. It seems this parade is a great excuse to go very, very fast and throw water balloons and buckets of water on other boats and boaters. They turn very sharply and cut very close to each other at high speeds. Sort of like they did on their motor scooters the day before. The Colombian Coast Guard was on hand in their two boats, pretty much letting people do as they pleased. It was pretty crazy on the water. We were glad Astarte was anchored a bit away from all the craziness. But, like with the motor scooters, nobody seemed to get hurt and everyone had a lot of fun. Of course, adult beverages were being consumed in great abundance.

We decided to pass on the activities last night - as we knew everything would start very late based on the afternoons start and end times. And we're cruisers and cruiser midnight is 2030. We did promise that we'd make it up for tonight's crowning.

There is a Tropical Storm Alex that seems to have formed pretty quickly just north of where we are. We are quite safe as it is far enough north and moving in a northwesterly direction. We've had a lot of clouds and a bit of rain - but nothing serious. We're glad we scooted out of the Bay Islands when we did. It seems Roatan is getting quite a bit of wind and rain from the storm.

This morning was boat project Saturday. Michael changed out the water pumps on the water maker. It is an 11 year old piece of equipment and we were getting lower quality and very low quantity water lately so it was time. The project was a success - some bad language passed his lips - but otherwise a smooth job. It was a big project that will make a big difference. Now that guarantees the rain will start - now that we won't need it as badly. Though we will always collect it to save the power and the filters.

We are safe from the storm - thanks to all who sent an e-mail checking on us. We appreciate the concern.

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Fiesta Time in Old Providence and a Ride with the Colombian Policia

After a light wind, 45 hour passage from Cayos Cajones (The Hobbies) to Providencia, we are anchored back in Catalina Harbour. We stopped by this lovely island on our way to Honduras. The 200 mile passage was in very flat seas (that's the good news) but that meant the winds were very light so we did have to motor about half of the way (that was the bad news). We had to sail some of it as we wouldn't have enough fuel to make the entire run (we had to motor most of the way to The Hobbies from Guanaja - and there is no fuel in The Hobbies). It was a pleasant trip and we saw only one other boat the entire time - the Dole Colombian ship. The worst news of the trip was that we caught only a barracuda (tossed back - lure saved) and a small tunny - not our favorite so it got repatriated to the seas as well. Nothing to add to the fish cache.

After arriving, we anchored in about eight feet of water and found out that it is the annual festival of culture and sport. In Colombia that means it culminates with the crowning of a beauty pageant queen. Many of the festivities leading up to the crowning event are around the young women. It started on Wednesday and though tired, the music blared from the plaza and we sort of enjoyed it. Unfortunately there was very loud music from various sources all competing to be heard. So it was quite a mix of tunes all at once. We still managed to sleep after the two nights off shore.

OnThursday, we cleared into the country. Since we were here last (three months ago), they moved the immigration office quite a way from the downtown area. So Mr. Bush, the maritime agent you have to use to clear into the country, arranged for us to be brought to immigration courtesy of the National Police. So, together with our friends from Ivory Moon (who safely arrived a day later than us after having engine issues and a torn sail), we all piled into the police truck and were brought to immigration. After that, the police man (and his girlfriend who was along for the ride) too us on a police car tour of the island. It was pretty funny and enjoyable.

That afternoon, we went to the big parade. This was the "float" parade. Each of the four finalists in the beauty pageant had a float on which they danced. The floats were decorated pick-up trucks. Three of the young women were scantily clad in bikinis and the other had on a more traditional costume. They shook their booty on pedestals on the trucks and went around the island. All the way around the island. They were accompanied by hundreds of crazy motor scooters and motorcycles with people in costumes. The bikes were revving and very noisy and coming very close to crashing into each other speeding through the streets. This is of course accompanied by lots of alcohol consumption along with the throwing of colored "chalk" dust, shaving cream, water and even paint. It was a wild event and everyone was having a good time. People would run up to each other and throw the chalk on them, or hug them with painted hands - all in good fun. It was a festive time and we had a blast watching it all.

After the floats returned to downtown (along with the crazy motorbikes), the contestants danced in the plaza to the applause and appreciation of the crowd. There is much lobbying for your favorite "chica" and everyone is yelling the name of the girl they like best.

We then headed over to the Bamboo Restaurant to do some internet and have a beer with the owner Javier whom we met on the last trip through here. He filled us in on the politics of Colombia (a Presidential election is happening - down to the final two candidates - one of whom is from the Green Party).

At about 11 pm, the concert on the Plaza started and ran until 3 am. It was a bit loud, but the music was good with three different bands performing. We could here it clearly on the boat - it must have been very loud on shore.

Today, Friday - we did some hunting for boat parts which meant hiking to three of the four hardware stores. No joy. This afternoon, we'll hit Old Town where the fiesta activities are today. It is Dia Azul (Blue Day) and much of the festivities center around the water. There is supposed to be a small boat parade, another parade and some music. Tonight is the talent show for the four contestants at the coliseum. We're hoping to hit some of the activities. Stay tuned.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Equipment Malfunction

Michael has been hunting and catching fish on the reef and we've enjoyed eating and sharing fish and seafood meals. Michael hunts with what is called a Hawaiian Sling, which is kind of like a giant slingshot. Our friend Gene made Michael's first one and the original bamboo holder (and the spear) are still being used. There is rubber tubing (surgical rubber hose) that attached to this bamboo holder which has a small "spear holder" piece on it. You put the spear in this holder, draw back the rubber (after aiming at your target) - all while holding your breathe under water - and shoot. When you miss - you have to retrieve your spear. Sometimes you hit a fish and it swims off with the spear still impaled - and it can shake it loose or finally give up. So it requires some chasing after the hit.

So we've been getting some mighty tasty hog snappers that seem quite abundant in this area and quite large. Then one day, Michael sees a giant one and pulls back and snap. The rubber breaks. No sling for the shot. He comes back and uses the spare hose on board and re-ties the sling. This lasts for about four shots. He has some other rubber tries that and it doesn't even survive one shot. The rubber is old, age and heat have made it brittle. So now we are on this lovely, fish heavy reef where you are allowed to spear and the spear is not workable. Bummer. When we get to Providencia, we will hope to find some new rubber, but, that may be difficult. Michael's having a hard time "just looking" when he snorkels.

We have been here in The Hobbies (Cayos Cojones) for more than a week now and it has been a wonderful week. The boat is secure in a good sandy anchorage in about 15 feet of water. We have lots of chain out and have sat through a few good squalls. Not too much rain - just the annoying stuff that makes you get up at night to close all the hatches and then stops. The wind is steady trades with some gusts in the squalls - but not uncomfortable. The reef really knocks the seas down and you just hear (and see) the waves crashing on the reefs in front.

Three sailboats are anchored here and we've enjoyed each others company and shared meals on each others boats. We are certainly eating well (fresh fish and seafood) while sitting in this remote location. The snorkeling has been good with lots of rays, turtles, some giant fish and even a small shark.

The little island near us is quiet, though stacked with lobster traps. A few fishing boats have come by and spent time at anchor nearby and have gone back and forth to and from the island. There are lots of birds around here - frigates, boobies, pelicans and various gulls. It's been a bit too windy to explore the other side of the island by dinghy, but we've made it out to a variety of the patch reefs around the area.

We're getting some boat projects done and doing lots of cooking and baking. Michael's tackled cleaning the underside which seems to be a project that requires more and more attention as out bottom anti-fouling paint is starting to wear out. It's a good workout!

All is well aboard and the good news about being in the middle of nowhere - lots of zero dollar days. We've had 10 so far!

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Aliens Took Our Picture

Enquiring Minds Want to Know!

After a good nights rest upon arrival in The Hobbies, we're enjoying being on the reef. If you look east from where we are sitting, the first land you'd see is the island of Guadaloupe (in the Eastern Caribbean). There is nothing but Caribbean Sea for 1250 miles. It's amazing that the reef out there can keep that much water at bay! There is a steady breeze keeping the wind generator humming and the temperatures perfect. The sun is out most of the time, but cloud cover comes regularly - again great for temperature control. We've had a few squalls at night with some rain and heavier wind which puts a little chop in the water - but it's still very comfortable.

The best part about these remote places is the sky at night. There is no light pollution except for our anchor light. And why we keep it on in here is questionable - there's no traffic over the reef! Last night staring at the stars, there were bright flashes every so often. So we decided that aliens were taking flash pictures. Perhaps we should write an article for the National Enquirer and make some cash to stay out here longer!! If we could only get our hands on the negatives! Too much sun? Too much salt water? Perhaps!

Bottom line, the sky is remarkable at night and the distant squalls put on quite a light show over mainland Honduras.

Yesterday was a hunting day for Michael. He went out snorkeling twice in search of dinner. We went to one far reef and saw lots of big fish - he claimed he saw a dog snapper as big as Barbara. He would have lost his spear for sure if he shot that thing. We came home with a lobster. The reefs are interesting - lots of fish - but the coral structure isn't as pretty. A lot of stag horn coral and quite a bit of silt/algae on the rocks. Barbara had an amazing ray encounter. She was watching one giant southern stingray work the bottom like a giant hoover vacuum, and an eagle ray came right up to her, arms length away, face to face. It was bigger than her and beautiful. Then it just hung around for awhile swimming around. The eagle rays are usually quite shy so this was interesting. Michael saw a huge tarpon that came in for a close swim-by. There were a couple of very large porcupine fish. These funky, big eyed, burred critters are often seen inside holes - but these were out swimming (which is a funny sight because of their fins and roundish shape).

We joined our friends on "Ivory Moon" for sundowners and yummy snacks and called it an early night. Michael was "net-control" yesterday for the Northwest Caribbean net and he was booming into Colombia, Panama, Cuba as well as the Belize/Honduras are. It's good to know our radio works so well.

A fishing boat came into the reef later in the day and stay anchored nearby at night. Perhaps they'll deliver us some fresh fish!

Weather is supposed to be bad for the next week or so - squalls, tropical waves and some rain, so we'll stay here. We might try a few places in this area - it is pretty large. But for now, it's nice to be safely anchored with nice snorkeling nearby. The rain will allow for some good deck and hull cleaning as well as some interior projects.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

41 Hours Later - Cayos Cajones

We had a very short weather window on Monday afternoon and Tuesday, so we took advantage of it and made the dash to our next destination. That meant on Monday morning, we had to get the last of supplies (read: beer) and clear out of Honduras officially. What a great country - it cost us $6 to clear in and less than a buck to clear out (we were required to make a copy of a document). So with that done - we pulled anchor and headed 160 miles due east. That's always a problem when the trades blow from the east 90% of the time. But seas were predicted to be relatively flat three to five feet; winds just north of east (good because we were heading just south of east) 10-15 knots.

The first 8-10 hours was pretty rocky - seas were more like 5 to 7 feet and the winds were right on the nose about 15-20 knots. As the first night wore on and we got into deeper water, the swells seemed to get a bit further apart making the ride more comfortable. Unfortunately we were a motor boat not a sail boat though the mainsail gave us about a knot extra push and helped stabilize the boat. All day Tuesday was sunny and the only bad thing - NO FISH bit on either line. We tried a variety of lures. Our buddy boat managed to get a 3 foot mahi - on a handmade lure. Going slower than us. Go figure. Hopefully we'll get to partake in the fresh critter.

Tuesday night we kept our eyes on a few squalls and lightning. Radar is handy for those big squalls at night when you can't see them. We had a few rain showers and did a little squall avoidance through the night (trying to steer around them). We ended up "catching" a good collection of smelly flying fish aboard that we saw in daylight (but smelled well before that!) Michael didn't want them for breakfast though.

Early Today (Wednesday morning) we approached the Cajos Cajones - also referred to as "The Hobbies." Maybe you need some big cajones to want to anchor out here. Who knows! It's a series of reefs sort of in the middle of nowhere. There are a few islands with some fishing huts on them and a few too small for anything but a palm tree or two. We are anchored behind a reef which keeps the seas down - but there is no wind protection. Good for no bugs and cool breezes and keeping the wind generator rotating. But if it gets squally as predicted - it could get pretty wild. But we are stuck good in deep sand with a lot of chain out in 15 feet of water. It is really pretty and hearing the waves crash on the reefs is a great sound.

This area is supposed to have incredible fishing, snorkeling and spearing opportunities and we hope to take full advantage. My goal is to eat fish or lobsters everyday we are here. We'll get into the water after much needed sleep. After two nights of three hours on and three hours off - and trying to sleep crashing on waves - it's not exactly restful.

But now it is all calm, sunny, breezy, and, very pleasant. Nap time and then a swim!

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Monday, June 7, 2010

No Power - Pizza by Flashlight

Guanaja was without power for a full day and most people don't have generators. Several boaters that arrived, couldn't check into the country because of the power loss. Stores' freezers were warming and lights were off. The good news was the stars were incredible with so little light pollution (it's not bad here - but even the little light makes a difference).

We had planned on pizza at Hans' restaurant (the funky place) where he makes the pizzas over an open fire grill - dutch oven style (putting metal covers over the pizzas then hot coals on top of these lids). It was quite a feat in the dark. A few cruisers lent Hans and his son their head lamps so they could at least see what they were doing. The beer was a bit warmer than normal as their cooler was without power all day. We ate by flashlights and you couldn't even see who you were talking with. It was a pretty funny evening. Unfortunately there was no music (Hans' usually has music blasting from his place) - but fortunately we didn't have to listen to a local gringo who was going to perform. (We heard him the next night when the power was back on and we realized it was a blessing there was no power when we were there!)

The water was also off on the island for the day - so it was pretty rough for the folks of Guanaja - especially these little businesses. There were about 18 boaters at pizza night and everyone had a good time without water or electricity. Unfortunately it took a long time to get so many pizzas done over the fire in the dark so we ate pretty late. But it was a fun time.

The next day, about 3 pm, the music came blasting out of Hans' so we all knew the power was finally back.

Boat projects are getting done. Michael did an oil change and luckily noticed a water pump belt that had slipped off. Better to find it here at anchor rather than in 5 foot seas offshore. Barbara's been washer-woman - getting laundry done and hung out on the stanchions so all can see our underwear! Had our boating friends over for a potluck dinner - served the famous Rossetti eggplant parmesan with some fresh eggplants that the ship brought in on Thursday.

Waiting on weather to move on.

Congrats to our nephews Christopher and Nathaniel on their high school graduation. We're proud of ya!

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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Sailing Friends

One of the pleasures of this sailing lifestyle is the folks you meet along the way. It is more difficult to meet the "locals" though we certainly make an effort to do so. It's much simpler to connect with other boaters - after all you have a good starting point - you're all out here living this life and there's always the boat, some boat part or some local information to share.

We've met a lot of people along the way and some have become "friends" - people you truly enjoy spending time with and are sad when your paths separate. We've had the real pleasure of connecting with some great people like Angelika and Friedl on Tumshi whom we traveled from Curacao and along the Colombian coast to Cartagena and then on to the San Blas Islands. We miss them as they have transited the canal and are in the South Pacific. There have been lots of good "mates" along the way (the Bamboozles, The Wisps, Vagabonds, the SloMoceans, the Inspiration Ladies, WC Fields, Bristol Roses, Beach Houses, The Blue Horizons, Serenes, Livin' the Dreams, Jouelles, Borres, NautiBears, Dream Alouds, Footlooses, Liberties, Jammins, Evergreen 4Rests, Genesis' … and so, so many more that it would take too much blog space).

One of pleasures is meeting people in one place, sadly going separate ways and then happily reconnecting again. That happened in Panama with a whole group we met in the Eastern Caribbean as they got ready to go through the canal. It happened again last night -"Panchita" with Joan and Ted on board arrived here in Guanaja after a long few days offshore. It was great fun catching up again and seeing them. We first met them in Cartagena at a potluck and continued to enjoy their company off and on through Panama. Joan and Ted are the folks who travel with 42 rubber duckies and propose racing them for any occasion. Some of you have been wondering about the ducky pictures . . . . now you know. Along with our new pals from Ivory Moon, we had dinner and a few adult beverages at the local German Restaurant, The Manatee.

The people come with such varied backgrounds, nationalities and experiences that you're constantly learning new things and broadening your horizons. That is a real pleasure. For example, last night we learned a lot about the little country of Estonia - from their special sauerkraut to their independence. Each person has so much to share.

So here we are out here seeing exotic places - but much of the pleasure of this lifestyle is the sharing the waterways with so many interesting other people.

We are now back in El Bight, having enjoyed almost a week at Michael's Rock. There were only two boats there - us and Ivory Moon. The snorkeling was fabulous, the waterfall hike was fun, and Michael even caught a nice red hind for supper one night. We had a motor back around the island on Monday - but it was pleasant. We hooked a 'cuda - and tossed him back. Unfortunately the last few days have been a bit windless so the bugs have been filling up on our blood. The no-see-ums seem to actually like bug spray. It's been miserable and we are both covered in bites and itching like crazy. Nothing seems to work to prevent the itch. But you take the good with the bad and the bugs are a small price to pay (though if you listen to us complaining on the boat you'd think it was a mighty big price!) We try to put things in perspective. It means we get in the water a lot to avoid being bitten - so the bottom of the boat is nice and clean.

The veggie boat gets in on Thursday so we'll provision up and wait for a weather window, check out of Honduras and start the trek back south.

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