Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Neighborhood Turtle

Cayos Cochinos is really a lovely place – and quite exclusive. We've been the only boat here for several days and then one or two boats would come and go. That's good for getting our cleaning projects done and the boat re-organized after the haulout work. We tackle a few projects daily and then cool off with a nice swim, snorkel or exploring trip. There are a few resident turtles nearby that we see at the surface regularly and Barbara went looking for them on a swim and actually found one nestled below.

We did some snorkeling and it was good to get back in the water again. The water here is incredibly clear. There is a small resort, Plantation Beach Resort, on the big island (Cochinos Grande). We've met the manager Rio and divemaster Will. We've had a few beers there, but the dinners are too pricey for our budget. The resort is lovely with lots of beautiful wooden cabins and native landscaping. Unfortunately, when we head in for a sunset drink – the bugs are also out. Lots of local tour boats come into the area daily – many stop on the nearby beaches, some go to the resort. They stay for a bit and then take-off again. They come from the mainland about 20 miles away.

We're still making plans for the Kathryn and Mark visit here in a few weeks and really looking forward to it. The weather of course has been perfect and we hope it remains that way for their visit – they deserve a rainfree one this time.

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Yippee – a handy toilet!

Splashdown. Astarte looks fantastic and is back in the water with her new bottom paint, repairs and a wax job. She gets more cosmetic work than Barbara! Anyway, the yard experience was very positive at La Ceiba Shipyards in La Ceiba, Honduras. We got out of the yard for about 1/3 less than we paid for the last bottom job in the states. And it's nice not to have to climb down a ladder and walk a distance to go to the bathroom.

We spent nine days in the yard (plus a few hours at the boatyards dock on the tenth day). If we didn't have issues with our credit card working at the end – we probably could have saved another day in the yard. It was a problem on the boatyard's end – not our bank's! But, overall, the yard experience was very positive. The workers were pleasant, capable and conscientious. Many spoke English. The up and down on the ladder had us tired by the end. Michael did a lot of the work himself including changing the cutlass bearing and removing and re-installing the prop and shaft; waxing the hull and changing thru-hulls. The yard did the bottom job and some glass repair at the keel. They took the paint down to the hull and repainted an epoxy primer as well as several coats of new bottom paint. Hopefully it will all last for several years. Because of our centerboard, we had to be in the lift sling for a little while so the board could get sanded, primed and painted. This actually worked out because we were waiting for our credit card to go through with the payment. They don't put you into the water until you pay the bill. They had an issue on their end of the transaction that held us up for an entire day.

We enjoyed all the animals around and Daniel the 17 year old "bicycle" shepherd (he would often round-up the cows, bulls, sheep and goats at the end of the day using his bike). The guards, Daniel and some of the workers forced us to practice our Spanish regularly which was good. They would all come by and hang out by the boat to chat. Maybe it was because Barbara was always baking some goodies and would share. But it made the experience more pleasant for everyone around.

We finally got splashed at the end of the workday on Wednesday then had Cesar align the engine on Thursday morning at 0700 and we were on our way out of the yard by 0830. Our first boatwork in a foreign country was a positive experience. Of course the bill in Lempira is frightening – but converted to dollars it was quite reasonable.

We had a motor sail after leaving the yard but it was good as we needed to make water and really charge up the batteries. We got moored at Cayos Cochinos at noon. So all is good. We're doing some clean-up but plan to relax for a few days then get on with cleaning the interior of the boat for our upcoming guests.

It's good to be back floating and letting the waves rock us to sleep. And it's even better to be able to wake up in the middle of the night and go to the head on board!

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Work, work, work...

First – NEW PHOTOS! On the Photos 1 tab, there are some pics posted of the boatyard and the big trophy we won in Britain for our article on "Cruising Colombia."

It's been a busy few days since being the La Ceiba Shipyard. So far, we've managed to get three thru-hulls changed and Michael managed to remove the propeller, shaft, and then got the old cutlass bearing off and the new one installed. By managing to do it himself, we saved some boat dollars and time. The yard is closed on weekends so no work gets done by the staff. We now have the hull sanded, washed, primed and one coat of bottom paint on. We thought we'd put on another coat this weekend, but the weather has been too lousy – lots of rainy bouts. The paint costs so much, we don't want to get a coat on just to have it wash off into the mud. We still need to get a little fiberglass work done – but that's scheduled for first thing Monday morning. Then we have to prime and paint that area.

Life in the yard continues to be "interesting." The roaming herd of animals is quite funny. The giant bull paid Barbara a visit while she was doing dishes. Daniel, the guy in charge of the animals, is obviously quite bored. He's been hanging out by our boat quite a bit. He speaks no English, so its good for our Spanish. He just sits and watches Michael do projects like remove the prop, shaft and cutlass. He's helpful and pleasant.

On Saturday morning, we had an in-town adventure. We hired Javier, a driver, to take us to town for propane, gasoline, groceries, oil and grease and some paint rollers and brushes. A rat trap was also on our list (preventative – no problemo yet!) We ended up going all over the place and it was an interesting day.

We came back and had to load everything on board – up that ladder. It, of course, was raining. But all was good.

We seem to be on schedule with the projects and so, keeping our fingers crossed, we should be out of here by Thursday. Weather may be a factor as the next few days are supposed to be pretty crappy.

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Thursday, March 17, 2011


We are high and dry and sitting out of the water. We are on stands at the La
Ceiba Shipyards in La Ceiba, Honduras. Its always quite tense to haul your "house" and have it "float" on land. The yard is quite good and the travel lift (the piece of huge equipment that lifts the boat on slings out of the water) was large enough that we didn't need to remove any stays (the pieces of wire that hod the mast up). The driver, Jorge, was very good and took excellent care in moving Astarte from her watery nest to her landbase. The boat then gets balanced on metal stands with wood pads and large pieces of wood are placed under the keel. It is quite unnerving to be staying on the boat because we both think it is rocking. That's what happens after 30 months on the water.

The haul out was the first step, now the bottom is being sanded and prepped for new bottom paint. Michael's been working hard at getting the broken thru-hulls out – one he found had been installed incorrectly at some point by the original builders or a previous owner. We're also removing the prop to put on a new cutlass bearing. Unfortunately they don't have the flat zincs we use, so we'll have to figure out a solution to getting a new zinc made.

The staff at the yard are all quite friendly. Many speak some English and those that speak Spanish at least talk slow enough for us to comprehend at least most of the conversation. The setting is interesting. We are settled on a grassy area overlooking some fields as well as the shrimp boats at the near-by docks. There are cows, bulls, goats and sheep that graze in the fields during the day and the baby goats (kids) are funny to watch – they just sort of bounce as they run around. The bird life and sounds in the morning and evening are very exotic.

The hardest part of living aboard is climbing up and down a ladder all day (we're about 10 feet off the ground) and not having a usable toilet aboard. That means a walk to the not so tidy restrooms. For the late night needs – it's a bucket and chuck it!

The place is safe with lots of guards around – but unfortunately they can't protect us from the fire ants, no-see-ums and mosquitoes.

We should be in the yard about eight to ten days. Then back to Cayos Cochinos for some serious boat cleaning from the dusty yard and guest arrival prep.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Cayos Cochinos

We enjoyed a few days at El Bight (should be El Bite) Guanaja, The "no-see-ums" were bad on land and even on the boat when the wind died. But it was good to relax and enjoy the close encounter with the dolphin that calls the anchorage home. He just cruises by the boat and hangs out for hours on end. We did accomplish a few projects and got the haul-out in La Ceiba all set-up after many, many phone calls with the yard. We'll get the boat hauled on Tuesday. Because there is no good place to anchor in La Ceiba, we decided we would go to Cayos Cochinos (27 miles from La Ceiba) and anchor for a few days before going to the yard. We could make the run to the mainland on Tuesday morning and get hauled out that afternoon. At least that's the plan. We'll see what's reality.

The trip from Guanaja to Cayos Cochinos is 45 miles so we started bright and early on Sunday morning. Cayos Cochinos (means pig keys) is part of the marine park and you must use a mooring buoy – there are about 6-8 of them so we were hoping there would be one when we arrived. It was a motor sail – we needed to get there in daylight. We sailed when the winds picked up. We, yet again, got skunked fishing though we were trying aggressively.

We arrived safely around 1600 and there was a mooring ball available so we grabbed it (first try) and settled in for the night. The winds gust off the high hills – but it was pleasant.

The Cayos Cochinos are quite beautiful – there are two larger islands – Cochino Grande and Cochino Pequeno along with lots of smaller, low lying cays. The large island that we are tied behind is more than 400 feet and very green with tropical vegetation and some rugged headlands. There is a small red and white light (not exactly a lighthouse) at the top of one the hills. The "pequeno" is behind us as we sit at anchor, and it too has some height. We're sitting in this lovely spot between the two hills and see the smaller, sandy beached cays to the south. The water is very clear. We hope the mooring is a good one as it is too deep to dive and check. It's more than 60 feet down.

We're only here a few days so not sure we'll do much exploring on this visit. We have to get the boat ready for hauling. But perhaps we'll return after the haul out as it's the closest spot to stop.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Passage to Honduras

It was our longest passage on this trip (at least so far!) We went a bit more than 600 nautical miles from Isla Linton, Panama to Guanaja – one of the Bay Islands of Honduras. It took us one hour more than 6 full days – or 145 hours to make the passage. We sailed all of it – having the engine on for less than 7 hours to get in and out of the harbors and to charge batteries and make some water at one point. But the sails were up for all of it except the last 15 minutes. We sometimes went at a snail's pace of 2 knots and at other times we were scooting along. The last leg we were actually working hard at slowing the boat down so we would arrive at our destination in daylight. But that proved quite difficult as the final leg was the windiest.

The first few days had the wind from the northeast (the direction we were heading) so that required us really pointing into the wind and "pinching" as much as possible. The seas started about 3-6 feet but calmed as the winds settled a bit over the days. We sailed slowly and even gave old Otis the windvane a try. He did fair - but because we were trying to stay on course very close to the wind, he just couldn't point as steadily as Nigel (the electric autopilot) could handle. In order to keep sailing though, we did end up running about 10 degrees off our course line and after 175 miles or so, that put us 12 miles off course and we had to tack to correct (so we wouldn't run into some reefs where there were plenty of shipwrecks stacked up! That one leg to get back on course took us seemingly forever. And, in retrospect turning on the engine might have been a better choice. But we wanted to sall, so sail we did – going backwards as much as we went toward to the courseline. But conditions were relatively comfortable – the seas flattened a bit and there were clear skies, no squalls and a steady breeze The skies at night were very beautiful – star-filled with a very small moon that set quite early giving the stars a chance to really shine. Those are always the magical sights of off-shore passages.

As we approached the island of Providencia (just past the island of San Andres)- both Colombian owned islands, Michael was on watch and spotted a signal on our AIS system (This is a very cool receiver we have on board. All large boats are required to have an AIS on board that sends a signal out from their ship. Information is then given to our system that tells us how far they are away and what will be the closest point of approach under the current courses. It also (often) provides information like the boats name, size, destination, if it's at anchor or under power, etc.) ) So back to the story. Michael sees a boat on AIS but can't see it by sight. There are no lights on it. He sees it is a military vessel on the AIS and the name is the Colombian Naval Vessel San Andres. They are closing in on us – which is always a bit frightening – especially because they remain stealth and unlit. If we didn't see that it was a military vessel – we would have been quite nervous. We turned more lights on our boat as well as the radar. Once the navy ship saw that we spotted them with our radar and by turning on more lights, they lit us up with a giant, incredibly bright spotlight and called us on the radio. In spanish. They were now quite close to us and even with the bright light blinding us, we could see that it was a military boat. They asked us for lots of information on the radio – boat name, boat numbers, country where we are flagged, departure point, destination, crew names, passport numbers etc. We made it through with Barbara's spanish and it ends with them really looking at all parts of the boat with the spotlight from sails to deck, bow to stern. They ask if we have weapons on board and then after much time and many long pauses, they wish us a nice night and a pleasant sail – shut their spotlight off and disappear into the dark again. Now that gets the adrenaline running.

On the fish front – we are simply failures! We need some good fishing buddies to come aboard and give us lessons or luck or something. We had lines out the entire time, and though we weren't going fish-catching speed very often, we had hoped for at least a bite. We caught some seaweed and a bit of plastic – but that's it! Nada. Nothing. Zilch. Zero.

However, there were fishing boats out along our course. One of the nights towards the end – as we were getting past the Vivarillos reefs – on Barbara's watch – she saw 24 boats at one point. Some seemed to be shrimpers – slowly moving, then changing course – seeming to just harass our course. Evasive tactics were required and under sail, that sometimes gets more complicated. But we made it through the massive collection of anchored and moving boats and got back on course. By the way, generally fishing boats are too small to be required to carry AIS transceivers.

The wind shifted the last few days as did our courseline and that created a downwind sail. The winds picked up as well, meaning so did the seas. The last night we were surfing over big seas as we got pushed along. At night, the crashing sounds of waves is always a bit scary. But we were flying with only our double reefed-main. The seas were too big to keep the headsail from staying filled. Every time we dipped down, the sail would collapse and then re-fill. This is very noisy and jolting so we chose to use the main.

Most nights we were able to maintain our 3 hour on and 3 hours off watch system. The last few, with noisy seas and a very rolly ride, it was hard to find a comfortable spot to sleep.

We had the thrill of being escorted on a few occasions by lots of playful dolphins. They love the big waves and seem to be "surfer-dudes" as they ride the waves right next to the boat – almost as if racing Astarte. A few of the dolphins also have that entertainment gene – they would leap to great heights and twist and turn to show off. One even leapt almost over the bow of the boat. They are so fun to watch and a few of the pods were quite large – probably more than 30 or so dolphins at a given time – many quite little.

Not much other sea life spotted this time. Very few birds and we were hoping to see whales or a whale shark – but no such joy. It was a quiet passage with very few other boats passing by – other than some freighters. Boy does Dole have a lot of boats! Must be collecting bananas and pineapples from Central America.

We got into the anchorage with enough light to sneak pass some corals and shallow areas. Anchored and relaxed for a bit Then we launched the dinghy and went to the island to clear in with immigration and the port captain. Both were very pleasant experiences and cost us nothing (quite a change from expensive Colombia and Panama). We also got some fresh baked bread and some Lempiras (the currency of Honduras). Then we had a wet dinghy trip back to the boat – the wind continues to kick up the seas making us glad to be safely anchored and not still "out there." We enjoyed a dinner out and met some interetsing folks.

Sleep came easily in the calm anchorage with a nice cooling breeze. No watches – we could sleep straight through. We did!

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What a Sail!

Safely anchored in "El Bight' Guanaja, Honduras. 6 days, 1 hour, close encounters with the Colombian Navy, swarms of shrimp boats, only 7.3 engine hours total. Details to follow soon.(How's that for a tease!)

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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Underway – Destination Guanaja, Honduras

We left Isla Linton in Panama on Thursday, March 3rd headed for Providencia and Honduras. It is now Saturday afternoon and we've been sailing non-stop since the engine went off at 0843 Thursday morning. Its been slow but we're trying to save fossil fuel (also boat dollars) and trying to get used to longer passages. That's something we haven't done much lately. The seas started out quite large but as the days have passed, the winds have lightened and the seas have flattened. That's good for comfort but not speed. So we're slowly making headway. At this point we're still just under 60 miles from Providencia and we'll most likely keep going. We could stop at the reefs of the "Vivarillos" and we'll make that call when we get there. We may choose to keep going all the way to Guanaja if the weather holds and we have enough wind to at least keep the sails full. We don't carry enough fuel to motor the entire way. From Providencia to Guanaja is more than 375 miles – and its 250 to Providencia from Linton.

So we're sailing. Micahel's posting position reports on the where are we page if you want to follow our progress.

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