Sunday, May 29, 2011

Oh, The People You Meet

Saturday Michael solved a big mystery on the boat with his battery monitor. He is now getting an accurate graphic reading of how many amps are going in and out of the batteries. That was a great thing as its been a problem he's been trying to solve for months. It took a drill, some wires and the length of the boat to solve. We needed to make a new twisted pair of wires and run them in a different path to the battery bank. All in all it worked pretty well and best of all solved the problem that we have not been able to resolve for a very long time.

So to celebrate the solving of the Link 10 issue and because it was Saturday night in Guanaja, we went to the local eatery, The Manati, here in El Bight. On Saturday it's the place to be as they have a weekly "special" and many of the locals (albeit mostly the gringo ex-pats) come for it. It's always interesting to meet these folks and you have the most interesting and unusual conversations.

The proprietors are a couple from Germany – Annette and Klaus. They've been here for quite awhile and serve mostly German food (schnitzel, roast pork, german noodles, sauerkraut, sausages etc.). They are very nice and interesting and always make you feel very welcome in their establishment.

There are two guys who each live on a boat in El Bight and have been here since we've been coming to Guanaja. Gar is on a boat called "My Way" and he's the local expert on the hiking trails around the island. He used to work as a lumberjack setting chokers, moved to Alaska to work in the oil fields and crossed the Pacific on a boat. He's had some interesting adventures. We passed on a book to him about the the Pacific Northwest Haidas and lumbering and he told us last night he was really enjoying it. The other guy is Brian who lives aboard "Ketch 22" and he is usually quieter. Though last night we found out he's written two books and has a publisher now interested. He's self-published the two and they were at the bar. He also loves music and we shared music stories as well as Barbara's hope to also write and publish. He has a great sense of humor.

The local ex-pats are an interesting group. One guy who was helping to tend bar named Mike, built a lot of large buildings in the St Petersburg/Tampa area. He worked on the city center building in St. Pete, the cruise ship dock in Tampa and the Tampa Bay Performing Art Center. He and his wife have lived on Guanaja for over 11 years. He showed us some pictures he's taken of the hummingbirds that will eat out of his hand. It seems they've been there so long and he calls himself their "sugar daddy." He took some nice photos. He's also a musician – more on that later. His wife makes a local traditional Honduran Garafuna herbal drink called "guifiti" which we had the pleasure of sampling after dinner as a treat from Annette. This is a concoction of various herbs, spices, roots and alcohol. It is said to be a cure-all for everything from high and low blood pressure (how can it be for both??), headaches (I think it gives you one first), flus and colds, mosquito bites - but you have to drink it daily (hmmm- guifiti or mossies??), stomach cramps etc. It had an interesting taste but you certainly wouldn't want to get drunk on this stuff. We had it served in these lovely traditional stone "glasses" that made it probably taste even more exotic.

Back to the characters. Another ex-pat guy who could be running a Saturday Market stand in Eugene, Oregon (though with a tan and tropical attire), has lived here since the 70s. He has a long white haired ponytail, wild shirt and baggy trousers. He has a house with a stream and dam ("I didn't put the dam up , I bought the property and it was already there.") and we're sure a "garden." Old hippies don't die, they just move to the tropics!

Another guy told us about the water table on Guanaja (perhaps he was a burned out real estate agent!). He said the island never runs out of water because it is supplied by an aquifer from the mainland. We also learned about the waterfall on the other side of the island that we've hiked several times. It used to be much larger with a giant pool at the bottom of the big fall. It seems that Hurricane Mitch broke off a large wall and tumbled big rock down the cliff and made the falls smaller and the pool very shallow. He and his wife liked their drinks.

We dined with our friends Beate and Wolfgang from the boat Genesis and their friend Uli from another boat. They are all German and love chance to speak German and eat traditional food here. They were all kind enough to speak English for our benefit through the meal and post meal conversations. We were joined after dinner by Annette (the proprietress) for the guifiti drink and many, many stories of family, growing up, Germany, Honduras etc. It was very interesting and entertaining.

Then, the "live" music started. Klaus (the proprietor) used to play in a band in Germany. He plays bass guitar. Mike, (the ex-pat hummingbird feeder, builder of things in Tampa Bay) plays keyboards. The restaurant has an area set up with amps, a drum set, lots of instruments and microphones, etc. for anyone to join and and play. Unfortunately on this night it was a bass - keyboard duet. The "House of the Rising Sun" was first on the playlist. We needed more guifiti...quick! Then it was "Knocking on Heavens Door" and some other song. It was thankfully a short-set and we returned to the great pre-recorded playlist. But it made for an interesting interlude and we always love a chance to hear live music,

As seems to be always the case, it was an interesting night out in the islands. We safely made it back to Astarte past our normal bedtime.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Fueling Up for Moving On

The guests have gone (so sad) and now it's time to head south out of the hurricane zone and to get Astarte and us to Panama. We made the move from West End to French Key Harbour where we enjoyed another fun day with our friends Honoree and Walt from "Will o' the Wisp". Then on Wednesday we made the slow slog into the wind and waves to Guanaja and settled into El Bight. Here we will fuel up for the 600 mile trek to Panama. We also need to clear out of Honduras and pick up the fruit, veggies and bread for the trip south. We are hoping we can make it without any stops, but it all depends on the weather conditions We don't carry enough fuel to motor all the way and the prevailing winds will mean we have to motor a good portion of the trip. The first leg is pretty east/southeast which is where the winds come from this time of year. Once we reach Providencia, we'll have a better angle to Bocas del Toro, Panama – and hopefully enough wind to sail. We may have to stop and fuel up in Providencia which we hope we don't have to do for several reasons. It will mean having to clear in there (expensive); the fuel is all bio-diesel (our old engine isn't fond of that) and it means we motored the whole way (noisy and expensive). But we'll see. We have to get to Panama sooner than later. It looks like Tuesday or Wednesday might be days we can leave (lighter easterlies than normal – flatter seas).

In the meantime we like Guanaja except for the no-see-ums which seem to have evolved to come out even in a good stiff breeze. Jumping in the water is a good solution (except when you're trying to sleep).

We're getting a few projects done while we wait for a weather window. Michael worked on the wind generator yesterday (thanks for the new foam insulation Jim E.) and Barbara's prepping meals for the passage. We'll do some stainless polishing as well and if we get some much needed rain (haven't seen any rain for a month or more), we'll get some cleaning done.

But its he weather waiting game for now.

Best wishes to Barbara's mom – she broke her arm the other day and want her to know we're thinking of her everyday.

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

New Photos

We've added some new photos to the "photos 1" page. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to caption them so you'll have to guess what they are, But here's a hint – there are lots of new photos of our hike up the waterfall with our recent guest Jim Eady. These include some pics of the boa constrictors – one is eating a lizard and the other is sunning on a rock. Plus some lionfish cleaning photos. So enjoy and we'll caption if we can ever figure out what the problem is!

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Fun with Jim

It was great fun having Jim Eady here for a visit. We had hoped he would break our fishing curse – but it still lingers. Even with a fishing tournament that ended with a tie – zero to zero – we did have a great time.

Jim managed to get in the water everyday and saw many a fish, shark, eel, and ray. The last day he found this hole covered by two large conch shells and when he pulled on one of the shells – it pulled back. He pulled again, and won the battle with an octopus behind the shells. It was a good size octopus and didn't seem intimidated by us. When we replaced the shells, he grabbed them and repositioned them to his liking. It was quite cool. Jim is a good fish spotter.

The last few days in West End were filled with daily snorkels to one of our favorite spots known as the "Blue Channel." It is like swimming in an aquarium – but with lots and lots of very large fish, especially groupers. We roamed around the little town and had some local eats, a nice dinner and a few brews.

Jim was a great boat guest and has an open invite to return. Hope he could relax a bit from his hectic work schedule. He can rest up now from all the workouts we put him through – hiking, swimming, lion fish hunting, snorkeling, and lifting that dinghy up and down.

Now we look for a weather window to head back south. Perhaps later this week.

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Monkey, Shark and Snake Sightings

We've been busy snorkeling, sailing, fishing and hiking with our guest Jim. Unfortunately he was alone when he arrived safely on Roatan. His wife Catherine was still under the weather and didn't make the trip. So we had our high energy Canadian good friend Jim aboard and we've been having a blast (that's why we haven't written for a bit!)

Let's start with the arrival on Thursday. "Our guy" Alex met us (albeit a tad late) at Fantasy Island and then we headed to the airport. Jim arrived with the bag of boat parts and treats and just enough room for a few of his clothes. Then Alex took us all back to the dinghy and we made it to Astarte. After unloading (it always feels like Christmas when we have company!) we headed out for some snorkeling. Jim was a fish exploring the reefs of French Key. He also became a great deck hand! We went for a walk around the Fantasy Island Resort and saw iguanas, agoutes (a large guinea pig looking thing), and peacocks. With a need for some cold beers, we stopped at the beach bar and enjoyed the antics of a young monkey who would dash into the bar and steal the maraschino cherries when the bartenders stepped away. He was quite a felon, also stealing the remote, cigarette lighters and peanuts. Of course we didn't bring the camera.

On Saturday we left French Key Harbour for New Port Royal. It was about ten miles to the east on Roatan. The fishing competition officially kicked off – two lines got in the water immediately. We were going fish catching speed and a variety of lures were wetted...but no fish. Score: Jim – 0; Barbara – 0.

We anchored in New Port Royal near the Mango Creek Eco Resort and the boys went snorkeling and lionfish hunting. After a break for lunch, we all snorkeled at a different reef in the afternoon seeing lots of cool things like reef squid, huge parrotfish and some nice groupers. We also collected and "repatriated" some conch closer to the lodge for their safety. After showers, we went to the lodge for a hike around the property, drinks and a dinner out. The Canadians were in full force with a couple from another boat joining us (also from Toronto) and Terry, one of the resort owners, also being from up north as well.

After a full day of sailing (actually motoring), fishing, snorkeling, and hiking – the crew of Astarte were tired. Plus, we had an early departure for Guanaja planned.

On Sunday morning, we headed out to the island of Guanaja, another of the Bay Islands. We headed for one of our favorite places, Michael's Rock. Again, the fishing lines hit the water and the competition continued. The score after day two – Jim – 0; Barbara – 0.

At Michael's Rock we instantly got in the water for a snorkel on the nearby reefs. Our friends from "Will of the Wisp" arrived. We entertained them aboard for a lasagna dinner that evening and we decided to take a hike the next morning..
Monday we dinghied around the rock and went to the stream to hike up the waterfall. It was a great day for a hike. We saw a boa constrictor having breakfast of a lizard – constricting him. Further up the trail, we saw another boa sunning himself on a rock. Then Barbara saw another snake slither away quickly as she was climbing up some rocks. It was a snake sighting day for sure. We got to the waterfalls (yes Kathryn and Mark – all the way!) and got our fresh water showers and cool down. The five of us made it and enjoyed the trip. At the bottom, we decided we needed a cold cool down beer and headed to the Green Flash Bar for beer and french fries (so much for the workout!)

An afternoon snorkel was welcomed as the wind had died and the "no see ums" seemed hungry. Jim and Michael saw a shark – and were hoping he wasn't hungry! It was a reef shark and it went on its way. Honoree from "Will of the Wisp" invited us over for a dinner of their recently caught wahoo (how come they catch fish??) Michael unfortunately started getting a cold so he stayed on Astarte.

On Tuesday, more snorkeling and some serious lion fish hunting. We went around the rock to another set of reefs. The visibility was great as usual and upon entering the water, Jim instantly spotted 5 lion fish in one hole. The boys became focused on hunting and ended up with about 10 kills – 6 were kept for cooking. One that Jim got was quite large. The spines were cut (and a few saved). The reefs were wonderful – Barbara and Jim saw a turtle and lots of great bright colored fish, sponges, corals and critters.

After cleaning the lionfish the skeletons were tossed off Astarte. About 20 minutes later, Jim looked and saw a shark circling the boat. The nurse shark was hunting out the free lionfish remnants meal the boys had tossed. He stayed circling for a good hour. Barbara wanted to get in the water again as the bugs were bugging her and decided she's rather deal with the shark than the bugs. Jim would be her lookout (at least until he fell asleep).

We went to "Wisp" for another dinner – it was Walt and Honoree's 30th wedding anniversary. Barbara baked a chocolate cake and cooked up the lionfish from the lionfish cookbook Kathryn and Mark brought. We also cooked the spines as the cookbook suggests (to denature the venom) and gifted those as elegant toothpicks as the anniversary gift. We think toothpicks from venomous fish spines are what you get someone for their 30th!

On Wednesday, it was time for some serious fishing tournament competition. We'd travel from Guanaja all the way to the western end of Roatan – an all day trip. A 0630 departure from the rock was planned. Anchor up (Jim is now in charge of anchoring). Fish lines ready and in the water. We thought we'd be able to sail – after all we were going with the trades...but the wind just died. We motored all day – at fish catching speed though. Seas were flat as a pancake. We saw a huge pod of dolphins that came a played with the boat. We tried just about every lure in the box – even changed hooks on some and shined others and re-aligned weights...

Score: Jim – 0; Barbara – 0.

We are tied to a mooring ball in West End, Roatan. Let the fun continue! We only get to have Jim here a few more days – boy does time fly when you're having fun.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Chilling the Beer, ay!

We are prepping for our guests Catherine and Jim flying in from Canada on Thursday. Hopefully Catherine is feeling better and can do her final recovery in a hammock in the sun with an Astarte rum punch in hand.

The last few days we have been doing major cleaning and re-organizing the boat to make room for our good friends. We are really looking forward to seeing them as its been several years and they are great boat guests. The wind has picked up again and the nice window we expected this weekend to head to Guanaja may be closing – so we'll have to see what our other options are for an Astarte adventure. We thought it would be fun to hit another island and also give us some sailing time and fishing time. When Jim's on board there is always a fishing competition.

On Saturday evening we went to a fun potluck and met some new folks. We enjoyed talking with a couple from New Zealand and a couple from South Africa. The number of boats in the area is slimming down as people are heading to the river (Rio Dulce) or north or south to get out of the hurricane zone. The morning radio nets are getting shorter and shorter and the anchorages are getting emptier and emptier. It seems that there were more boats here at this time last year – but who knows. Its an enjoyable time to be here with great weather and the fish don't go away – so lots to see snorkeling.

Tomorrow we'll get the last minute provisioning completed as well as the final preps and then on Thursday we'll head to the airport to meet them. Back to cleaning! And, oh yeah, chilling lots of beer!

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What do you do on long passages?

We've done six day passages but not like many who've crossed the Pacific and have been out 12 days to get to the Galapagos from Panama. What you do is really dependent on the seas and conditions. But you do have to figure out ways to spend the time when you are most definitely "boat bound."

On our passages we do all the regular things like chart work, boat maintenance, cooking and baking, laundry in buckets, boat cleaning and even some major projects like stainless polishing or sewing. We also spend time reading, chatting, writing or playing games. We are always fishing – rarely catching – but always trying.

After dark on watches you tend to just watch for other boats, nibble snacks and perhaps listen to an audio book or music. We try to have a nice dinner each night unless conditions forbid it. Sometimes, we play a game where we cast friends and relations as characters for a movie based on the books we're reading. We often reminisce about the great places we've seen and more importantly the folks we've met.

We mentioned in past blog entries about the friends Chris and Dave on a boat "Chrisandaver Dream" (shortened to CD) and Mike and Karen on Chapter Two. We had many a good time with these four Brits and sincerely enjoyed their company. They have headed to the Pacific, Chrissy, on CD, obviously must have been bored on their 12-day passage to the Galapagos and she crafted this lovely poem for us.

We thought we'd share her work...

Mike and Barbara aboard Astarte
When ever we meet we have a party
On remote island shore
You're never a bore

Always great fun
And when day is done
You light up the night,
Yes, you make it bright
Especially when there's a barby.

So whether with Chapter Two
Or may hap just you
With snorkeling most fine
Chocolate cake divine

We'll take memories of you
Which for now will have to do.
'til in some distant bay
Half a world or so away

We will be there
With wine and some beer
Which we'll gladly share
With friends so dear.

We're now in the pacific
And have to say you're terrific
So to a couple of yanks
We give YOU our thanks.

And we give them our thanks for the kind thoughts and good memories. So I guess we should add writing poems for friends to our list of "what do you do on long passages?"

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Monday, May 2, 2011

Getting in the Royal Mood

There are Royal Weddings and then there is Port Royal. We are now in a place called Port Royal still on Roatan – on the southeastern end. We spent one night in a place called Calabash Bight – but then heard from some friends that had just anchored in Port Royal so we jumped here. It was the next harbour to the east. We hadn't had the chance to see these friends from the boat Footloose yet this year – so we made the two mile passage.

It may have been a short passage – but it was eventful. We had to head right into some pretty big waves and wind. Right near the entrance with reefs on the right and left of us – we caught a line around our rudder. There was a buoy (probably marking a fish trap) with a very, very, very long line attached to it. It was soon attached to us and we had to shift the motor into neutral so it didn't wrap the propeller. Now we are getting pretty close to the reef and trying with a boat hook to get the line free. Of course, with the big waves, the boat is rocking pretty wildly. Michael was able to grab the line but unable to free it from the rudder and the reefs were getting way to close. So he had to cut it free. Luckily it worked with a little nudging of the rudder to set it free. We then made it into the calmer harbour waters and anchored.

We did take the float and line and after we off loaded the dinghy and motor we went to try to find the line and re-attach the styrofoam float so others would see it and the local fisherman wouldn't be out a trap. Michael got the coordinates off the track we made coming in and we used a handheld GPS to get to the line. And sure enough we found it – still too much line floating and dangerous for other boats to snag. We tied on the float (tightening the line a tad so there wasn't quite as much free floating, prop catching line. It was an adventure.

The wind is hooting but we feel like the anchor is well stuck. Tonight, we'll splurge and have dinner at Mango Creek with our friends from Footloose and another boat. It should be fun and very tasty! Mango Creek is a really lovely eco resort – with a great cook. The owners Terry and Patrice are former cruisers who have circumnavigated. They also love dominoes so there may be a match in the future.

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