Saturday, April 30, 2011

Everyone to the River

This is an interesting time to be in the Bay Islands of Honduras. Folks who spend many months here (December thru now) are all heading back to the "river." That would be the Rio Dulce where boats (both fulltime cruisers and commuter cruisers) often go to spend the summer months/hurricane season. We seem to be one of the few left here to enjoy the beautiful Bay Islands. It's nice because we have our choice of mooring balls and anchoring spots.

Its funny to be at the various last boaters gatherings and everyone talking about "seeing you in the river." We say,"no, we're heading back to Panama." For us, the river doesn't hold any appeal. You are stuck in the river (yes, fresh water) but its hot and there is nothing to really do unless you do inland travel (and it's pretty warm months to do that!) But every boater has his/her own style – that's what makes it so interesting. There are a few friends heading this way (on their way to the river) so we hope to connect with them prior to their getting river bound.

So over the next several weeks, we'll have our run of the Bay Islands. Our guests Catherine and Jim will be heading down from Canada to visit starting May 12 and we are very excited about their visit. That means a fishing tournament and hopefully the fish will cooperate this time.

We're still in West End, Roatan and will probably move on in the next day or two to another anchorage on Roatan. This year, we haven't yet been to Calabash Bight, so we'll probably head there. The snorkeling is really interesting there, so we'd like to explore it. And perhaps kill a few lionfish and get a dinner!

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Adios to Kathryn and Mark

Our guests have departed Astarte and hopefully have made it off Roatan and to San Pedro Sula for their trip back to the states and work. We enjoyed having them aboard the good ship Astarte and had some fun times. They made it into the water everyday, and at least on this visit, there was not a drop of rain to be seen (unlike their visit to us in San Blas). We got some sailing in as well, and managed to get to two islands – Roatan and Guanaja. The fishing was a failure – though we gave it a valiant try. One lionfish at the end redeemed the skunking.

Thanks to them for the snacks, the Lionfish cookbook, fishing supplies (not that they seem to do much good) and the other bits and pieces.

Now, we're getting the garage and attic back to restore the items piled high in the aft cabin and head. Sounds like more visitors might be coming in May so we'll look forward to that in a few weeks. We need to restock on food, beer, gasoline and diesel.

West End is a busy place for Easter weekend. As Raoul told us in Puerto Rico over a past Easter weekend - "people used to go to church, now they go to the beach." It seems true in Honduras as well. The water taxis seem to be going non-stop by the waterfront along with the dreaded jet skis, banana boats and fast boats. Tourists from the mainland as well as the cruise ships are splashing around the reefs and the music is blaring at night from the many bars.

Cruising boats are starting to head up to the "rio" (many spend the summer in the Rio Dulce in Guatemala) so the mooring balls here in West End are opening up. We'll decide what our plans are once we hear for sure f our next guests will be coming.

Happy Easter to all – enjoy your chocolate bunnies.

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Sanctioned Hit

We purchased a "License to Kill"! The Roatan Marine Park issues a limited number of permits to spear lionfish inside the park boundries. So, Mark and Kathryn bought one along with a short spear. We were now legal to hunt lionfish, which by the way, are very good to eat.

It took three trips, but we finally spotted one. They are all over Guanaja and other islands, but there was a derby in February that bagged over 1200 at West End, so the pickings here are a bit slim.

Mark shot it, clipped the poisonous spines off, and cleaned it. Kathryn cooked it up and we had a bite each. Very tasty. There are some new pictures on the Photo 1 page that document our hunting adventure.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hammer Time

We've done a lot of diving over the past few days--the prices are right and there is tons to see, with great visibility (~15-20m)--much different than diving in the PacNW or Chesapeake Bay, where you often can't even see your gauges! We did a site called Mandy's Eel Garden the other day which was a nice little dive that brought us over a patch of garden eels! These are always really cool to see--they are small conger eels (Heteroconger halis) that live in burrows in sandy substrates with only their little heads popping up to catch the plankton in the current. They are pretty shy and go back down their holes if you get too close, but they are neat to see, especially because they're typically found in patches. We also saw a bunch of reef squid, which are always fun to watch. There were 66 of them (according to the divemaster's count) and we even saw a few amorous ones, which is cool because they get all brightly colored and flare their tentacles. They didn't seem bothered by us and at one point Mark and I had drifted ourselves right in the middle of the pack. At the end of the dive we also saw a small sharptail eel, which is a true eel, and is apparently a bit more rare according to the fish guide, so that was a cool sighting too.

Yesterday, we did a morning deep drift dive. The site was at the SW corner of the island where two currents come together, so there are typically bigger fish, huge sponges, and occasionally some sharks. We descended to about 100'--unfortunately, it was pretty hazy, so the visibility wasn't as good as it could have been had it been bright and sunny, but as we swam along the reef wall, we could see it got very deep, very fast. A few of the divers in the group headed out over the blue water and we kept along the wall. Soon enough we heard someone banging on a tank and divers started swimming fast. My husband cum dive-buddy started swimming hell bent for leather in their direction and I decided I had better follow, despite the fact that I wasn't keen on sucking up all my air chasing mystery animal--but as I got toward the group I could see there was a hammerhead shark cruising around and people were very excited! This is a pretty rare sighting, apparently, and there was a lot of boasting when we got back to the dive shop. It was probably about 7-8' but by the time we got back to the dock it had grown to about 10'+. We still aren't sure if it was a Great Hammerhead or a Scalloped Hammerhead, but it did have a scalloped hammer for sure. I'll have to check in with the shark folks when I get back to work to see if we can figure it out.

We had a few hours before our evening dive, so we wandered about town a bit, got some baleadas (a Honduran specialty I had been wanting to try--yummy), and then returned to the boat with full bellies. Unfortunately, the entire town lost power for most of the day, which was bad news for many of the shops and restaurants. The poor cruise-shippers had no place to spend their money!

Speaking of cruise ships, it really is amazing the impact they have on these small island towns. One ship came in the other day--it had over 4000 passengers and 1700 staff! West End was over-run. Yesterday, there were 3 ships in. There are catamarans that bring would-be snorkelers on day trips to the marine park where we are moored. We set out to go snorkeling the other day when one of these catamarans discharged its passengers--there's nothing like a bunch of flailing cruise-shippers, new to snorkeling and with ill-fitting equipment to drive the fish away. We kept hoping the few barracuda that were out and about would exact some revenge, but even they were hunkered down. It was really like being in a human-filled aquarium--this day the people provided more entertainment than the fish. The look on one lady's face when Barbara told her the fish she was looking at was a barracuda was priceless...I think if I was going to be here much longer I would have to devise a few practical jokes for this group. Apparently, some of the other cruisers have already discussed a remote controlled shark.

Anyway, we went back into town a bit early in hopes that the power might be back on and we could find a working ATM and make a trek to the gas station to fill the outboard tank. The power was still out, but we got both tasks accomplished thanks to generators. Mark and I hung around and people-watched before our night dive met up--it's a nice town to just sit and chill in, watching the comings and goings of Semana Santa partiers and all the activity on the waterfront.

We met up for our night dive and set out--there were 5 of us, plus two divemasters, all of which we had been diving with before at this point, so that was good. We descended just as it got dark and before long we saw a huge crab crawling about the reef and a small octopus. I could have watched the octopus for the rest of the dive--they are so curious and so fun to watch. We saw a bigger one later and since I was at the back of the pack, once everyone else moved on I turned my light off and then back on again and saw that he had turned this brilliant red color when the lights weren't on him and paled up as soon as the light shone on him. Pretty cool. We also saw some nudibranchs (my favorite!), many lobsters, a large green moray, and lots of tiny cleaner-type shrimp out and about. Mark spotted a cool scallop-type thing too. Night dives are always so neat because a lot of the animals that are tucked into the reefs during the day, like urchins, come out to feed and they are really active (well, as active as something with tube-feet can be). And the water clarity is so good here, you have really good visibility even when the flashlights aren't on. Very cool.

So, we're done with diving since we fly back to San Pedro tomorrow morning, but now that we're fueled up on tasty coconut bread french toast and fresh pineapple, we'll get a few snorkels in today at some of the sites we haven't hit yet. Hopefully, we'll avoid the fish-scaring splashers, and see some more fish and critters before we have to leave. I could definitely come back to Roatan!

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Nice sail, but no fish

We left Guanaja bright and early Sunday morning for the trip back to Roatan. After days of fairly fresh breezes, of course, we awoke at 0515 to still water and barely any wind at all. Figures. But, as the sun continued to rise, the wind built back up a little and we were able to put out the headsail for the downwind run just as soon as we cleared the reef. With lines in the water, we still weren't really at fish-catching speed, but we figured it was early and some sleepy fish might be tempted. Or not. It was about a 45 mile run to our destination, the West End of Roatan in the Marine Park. As we made our way down the north side of the island, the wind and seas built and we were getting faster, but still not catching fish. A little sail trim got us in the fish-catching speed zone for sure, but still no dice. We tried every lure in the tackle box, each with a new name (e.g. Hondureno, Spoony, Don Pedro, etc.) but despite the love, no fish. Barbara thought she got a bite and hours later as we were putting Cucharita away, we noticed part of the hook was missing, so she had, in fact, been struck.

We got into the marine park, Anchor Boy selected a secure mooring, and all was well. We figured the giant conch (alive) that was below the boat was a good sign that the marine protected area may in fact be respected! The water is very clear and there are about a dozen moorings in the field, so plenty of company, but not packed in too bad. The water taxis zooming by off the bow provide a steady stream of interesting movies--some are packed, some are not, all move very fast! It being Semana Santa this week, the number of other boats around is pretty high and there's plenty of entertainment there too--lots of yahoos trying to waterski, tube, etc.

We went into West End yesterday to run some errands and scope out the diving options. After several shops, we realized the price is more or less the same everywhere, so we just chose one. We dropped off the laundry, bought some eggs and veggies, and dumped the trash, before heading back to the boat to fuel up and get our stuff ready for our afternoon dive.

We got back to the dive shop and found we would be the only ones on the afternoon dive (sweet!), so we asked to change the trip to one we wanted to do, and they obliged. Saw some very cool pipefish, a large green moray, and some jawfish with eggs in their mouths popping up out of the sand! Wicked cool! Also saw some very large crabs and several good lobsters, also signs that the park may be doing its job! Moreover, we saw no lionfish! Bummer in way, as we still haven't been able to try them for dinner! Barbara and Michael had a nice snorkel out on the reef while we were diving and then we all rendezvoused in town.

We had an evening out on the town last night, stopping at several spots for post-dive/snorkel beers before having a very yummy fish dinner while watching the parade of Semana Santa revelers move up and down the street. We were hoping for another green flash, but the sun dipped into some clouds just before it hit the horizon so we settled for a nice sunset!

After our yummy banana pancakes, we've got a morning "family snorkel" followed by another dive for Mark and I this afternoon.

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Green Flash, Astarte Punch, Fresh Veggies--What Else Do We Need?

We welcome our guests Kathryn and Mark aboard Astarte. They are visiting for 10 days or so and as tradition dictates, our guests make the log entry. The following, by Kathryn.

Wow! Where has the time gone? After a very cool few days relaxing, canyoning, and river rafting up in the Rio Cangrejal outside of La Ceiba, we arrived on Roatan last Monday after a rough ferry ride from La Ceiba—it made the 12-seat plane ride into El Porvenir in Panama 18 mos. ago seem breezy. The complimentary sea-sickness bags were well-used by several of the passengers—a new ferry experience for us—I really can't see Washington State Ferries staff responding with the same nonchalance if/when being handed a full bag! Yikes. Thankfully, we got off the boat feeling a bit beat-up and not too green. After some minor provisioning and a bank run for more lemps, we made our way to Astarte—it was good to be back aboard and our first rum punches tasted quite refreshing.

Contrary to our Panama experience, which lacked vegetables and was long on rain, we started out with lots of fruits and veggies and plenty of sunshine! We did a nice couple of snorkels before leaving French Cay Harbor and got our first taste of Honduran reefs. We saw some nice sponges and plenty of colorful fish, all signs of a good time. We made our way east from FCH toward the island of Guanaja. Mark and I were hoping we'd make it there, as it's a bit more off the beaten path and is someplace a bit harder to get to for non-boaters than Roatan. After a stop partway down Roatan in Old Port Royal (which we determined is not where they brew the beer—the coordinates didn't match those on the bottle), we made the passage to Guanaja. Once again, we managed to keep the joyless fishing streak alive, despite the purchase of some new lures before we came.

We anchored up at Michael's Rock—Michael has a damn fine rock, we'd say! A beautiful spot with some lovely little beaches (albeit they suffer from the same jejene problem as most of the others in the area) and a sweet little place to snorkel right from the boat! The rocks were full of sponges and there were plenty of lionfish hiding around too. We took a nice (sweaty) walk to a nearby waterfall, where we all rinsed the salt off and enjoyed the fresh water cascade. The bugs weren't too bad either, which was nice, but made the sweaty long pants and shirt seem like overkill! We checked in with Bo Bush at his Green Flash Bar and had a delicious lunch of tasty fish and chicken, a few cold beers, and also got the scoop on diving. It must have been good luck, because we capped off the evening with a great Green Flash while eating our dinner of chocolate cake!

After a little relocation, we tried out the reef on the other side of Bo's which was a pretty nice little swim. We saw a Hawksbill Turtle and a few good sized sting rays, along with lots of bright blue reef fish! Blue seems to be the predominant color of the fishes here, which is kind of cool. We've seen plenty of red soldier and squirrel fish and various other things, but even the trumpet fish are blue here, which we haven't seen before. To cap off the night we carbo-loaded on delicious lasagna before our big diving day!

We decided to hang around Michael's Rock long enough to dive with Bo on the local reef. It's always great when it's just your party and the dive master, and that was the set-up for Mark and I this morning. Bo even managed to find some wetsuits for us so we wouldn't get too chilly, which was pretty nice. Once his guy loaded the gear, we headed out to the first of the dive sites. We saw tons of fish and some other interesting things, but it wasn't until the second dive that things got really cool! The second dive was a series of pinnacles and swim-throughs, which tested our buoyancy control but had high reward! We got to one little corner and out swam a 2 meter nurse shark—we watched it glide right by us with such ease. It was really impressive, but I did have to remind myself to breathe as I contemplated how it must feel to have 3 divers blowing bubbles in its face! Before I recovered from that, Bo swam us into a cave (where I was sure 5 of the shark's friends were hiding). I gathered myself (and made Mark go second) as we swam into this cave, only at the far end of which did a little bit of light trickle down from the surface—very magical. We had a cold beer back at Bo's and rehashed the highlights of some very cool dives.

While we were out having fun, Barbara and Michael were slaving away on projects—one of which included feeding us. We loaded up on hot dogs and homemade baked beans and coleslaw before taking a bit of a rest. Soon enough we'll be off to gather some mangoes—a local homeowner paid us a visit and invited us to come on by and fill a bag! Yum.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011


FIRST... we have internet so there are some new (albeit old) pictures on the website in the folder Photos 1. So take a look.

We miss the calm waters of Cayos Cochinos with the big island Cochinos Grande protecting us from the easterly winds. It has been mighty windy here in French Key Harbour since we arrived. It's a steady trade wind of over 18 knots and at times staying well over 20 with gusts in the 30s. The decks are all very salty from the constant salt spray from the gusty winds picking up the spray off the waves and sending it our way.

We're well anchored in a nice sandy patch. Unfortunately though, another boat came in and anchored a bit closer than we'd prefer in this kind of weather. Plus Michael dove their anchor and it isn't that well set! And it's in grass not sand. Oh well...

We had a lovely dinner aboard the motor yacht "Voyager" last night Lynn and Byron were great hosts and what a difference a big, heavy boat makes. We could hardly feel the swell and wind. It was a very fun night visiting and enjoying a feast.

We made our way into town on Monday to get some of our errands done. We got our internet connection, some Lempiras, and a bit of groceries. It was a very wet ride back in the dinghy. We were soaked by the time we made it back to the boat. We have to make another trip in to get some frozen shrimp and meat, but are hoping for a calmer day so we can stay a bit drier on the return. We are anchored near the Fantasy Island Dive resort, and they provide some services for cruisers. So we were lucky to be able to hit the propane truck's visit and get our tank filled pretty conveniently and cheaply. Unfortunately there is a fuel shortage on the island (or so we're told) so we'll hope to get our diesel and some gasoline over the next few days.

On Friday night here, there is a fundraiser for a local school to buy some band equipment, so we'll support that and enjoy a chicken dinner at the same time. We've connected with some other boats we've seen along the way and it's always fun to see old friends.

We continue to get the boat prepped for our company taking on a project or two a day.

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Monday, April 4, 2011

Bonjour from French Cay Harbour, Roatan

We are now in French Cay Harbour, in Spanish speaking Honduras, on the islands formerly known as British Honduras. It was a lovely sail from Cayos Cochinos (about 22 miles). We did sail almost the entire way on a close reach doing over six knots and at times hitting 7.5 knots. The seas and winds did pick up as the day wore on and as we came to the entrance of French Harbour, it was hootin!

We worked our way over the corals and sand patches and found a great sandy patch to anchor. Michael dove it and it was a perfect set in nice silty sand. That was good because the wind started to really pick up. We watched an Island Packet sailboat drag and we held firm. All night it continued to blow over 20 knots, hitting 28-29k at points. We are settled behind a reef so the seas weren't bad, but there was just enough fetch to give us a little rocking, rolling and wave slapping against the hull.

As cruising is a series of "howdies and so longs" it was nice to have a reunion with some old friends Lynn and Byron from the lovely motor yacht "Voyager". We anchored near them so as they were heading back to their boat after a day of adventure, we flagged them down and they came aboard for a beer. It was nice to reconnect as we hadn't seen them since Grenada. We had done an inland tour with them in Guadeloupe so it was really nice to visit and hear about their adventures over the last few years. They are heading the same way as us now, so we should be seeing them over the next few months at least.

While still in Cayos Cochinos, Michael did some sewing projects. We got the big headsail down and on the forward deck with sewing machine, he did a sail repair. Then (Lorna you'll love hearing this), he actually made two of the three seat cushion covers for outside. Lorna and Dave brought us this cool, wild fabric to cover the vinyl cushions and Michael sewed them up. They look very cool and feel quite nice on the butt! We got some big cleaning projects completed as well and even managed a bit of visiting and snorkeling. We like the Cayos Cochinos – it was very peaceful and remote.

And, because it is so remote there, we came to Roatan to get a few things done before Kathryn and Mark arrive. We need some propane, to load some minutes on our phone card, maybe some diesel and some provisions. Then, we'll wait and hear what our guests final plans are and whether or not we'll head back to La Ceiba to get them.

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