I was re-reading my logs of our voyage from the San Blas Islands of Panama north to Providencia, Belize and on to Mexico, making our way back to the US before the start of Hurricane Season.
Most cruisers know that it’s never a good idea to push either yourselves or your vessel to try to keep to some external time-table, but avoiding hurricanes is well – unavoidable! As we approach the 2010 Hurricane season (which could be another nasty one, according to the prognosticators), I recall our first actual hurricane season – 2004, when we first got to Florida. It was one of the worst ones since Hurricane Andrew.
I’m sure all you cruisers out there would agree that the cruising lifestyle affords one higher highs and lower lows than our dirt-dweller friends experience. Perhaps its our love-hate relationship with the boat, or the amazing things we get to see up-close and personal, or the eternally peaceful place we often find ourselves, far away from the bustling life of the common folk!
My log, written around this time back in 2004, really illustrates this, i think.
Log Entry – May 5, 2004 – On passage to Cayo Media Luna
Sometimes this life really sucks! Like this last passage for instance. It was a washing machine cycle for the get-go. The seas went from choppy to down-right nasty. By the time we reached Media Luna,( about 24 hours later) we were beat and in a pretty foul mood. The seas were on our beam or just aft of the beam and just the right height (about 6-8 ft) to occasionally slap right into the cockpit and usually into Jann’s face or back. One actually leap up over the low side where I was seated and got me! Feeling sorry for Jann, I offered to go below and wedge myself into the sea berth (our settee with the lee cloth up), and let him have the only semi-dry spot in the cockpit. I stayed down a bit too long though and when I did finally come up at 10am, It was at a full run. I had just managed to get Jann a bite to eat and something to drink, when I was suddenly seasick and lurched for the lee rail! After that was over, and I had apologized to Jann for almost ruining his breakfast, I felt somewhat better.
It’s times like this that we both question our dedication to this lifestyle. But we are on the fast track now in order to get to Miami before hurricane season begins. We will briefly rest here in this wilderness anchorage, really just a spec of an island on an offshore reef that protects us somewhat from the swell.
We lost a full jerrican of fuel over the side on the way here. I think I heard it splash into the sea, but it could have just been a wave hitting the hull.
May 7. 2004 – Cayo Vivorios
This has got to be the most out-of-the-way anchorage we have seen. It is 80 miles offshore of Honduras and belongs to them. We actually sailed almost all the way here and it took only 11 hours! There are a few islands which, from the smell, are clearly bird nesting sites. We met two men who were living in a primitive fishing shack. They told us that the tern eggs where very rich! We walked clear around the island with Chimere and Eclipse & Orion. Carolyn & Vicky and I collected perfectly beautiful conch shells and other beach-strewn treasures. After that, Jann & I went over to Eclipse for showers, then watched a movie and went back to SAGA to collapse. While we were all aboard Eclipse a discussion came up about changing our plans and sailing past the Bay Islands, stopping to rest at Swan Island, near Belize, and then heading straight for Isla Mujeras. I was pretty beat up from the last passage and was dreading this possibility. Before bed and in tears, I cried to Jann that I didn’t think that I would be able to do it and that furthermore, I didn’t want to! The next morning, Jann told the others that I had come up with a better route from Honduras to Belize that would take us inside the reef, thereby offering us more protection. Since Chimere really wanted us to go with us, they seemed very pleased. So we changed our tack again, and decided to leave before noon so that we could make it to the Bay Islands before the seas built up more as had been forecast. Rather late, we decided to head for Guanaja instead of Roatan since it’s closer.
May 10, 2004 – French Harbor, Roatan, Honduras
We arrived in Guanaja yesterday afternoon after another sh@#$y passage. Not as bad as the other day but still pretty bad. Jann had to change a clogged fuel filter about 11 miles out, that was filled with water. The fuel was from Nargana in the San Blas Islands. Our motor-sail took almost 30 hours. In the wee hours of the morning, like 3:00, we were hit by a big squall. It caught us unawares. Jann had just taken over the watch from Carolyn on Eclipse. (We were swapping watch with Eclipse so that each crew could get some interrupted sleep – together, a rarity on passages!) The squall seemed all around us. There were huge dark clouds in front of us, on our port side and a huge black wall behind. He went forward to take down the jib while I took the tiller. It took all my somewhat limited strength to hold that tiller. I’m always so frightened during times like this when he has to count on me not to jibe the boat and possibly send him into the sea. I managed to keep control and allowed him to reef the main to lessen our sail area. The winds had really gotten up by then, with gusts to 35 kts. Afterwards the seas were really lumpy but we were sailing more downwind, so they weren’t as bad. We anchored in Guanaja and hour or so after Eclipse and Chimere arrived. Eclipse invited us over for another shower, (They are so sweet!) and we did some navigation to get us to Roatan. Then we took our weary bodies back to SAGA to sleep. I think it was the first straight 8 hours I had had in a week. Needless-to-day. I slept very soundly. Departure was planned for 6am or sun up. It was a fairly good run downwind to Roatan. Mid-way we all decided to pull into French Harbor which is closer than Coxen Hole, and therefore made the trip even shorter. Along the way, we were treated to a hour long dolphin show! I took over a half hour of video of them doing water acrobatics and surfing the 6 foot waves with us. What a treat!
The entrance to this harbor, known as the best Hurricane hole in the Western Caribbean, was very tricky. The passage through the reef is narrow and was rather harrowing for Eclipse, being 30 feet wide! And although it was hard to steer while being thrown from side to side by those large waves, I steered us in with Jann on the bow directing.
It’s really lovely here. We are anchored in French Harbor, Roatan. Its hard to imagine that we’re only 530 NM from The Keys! (Well, at least as the parrot flies!) The Bay Islands, Guanaja, Roatan and Utila are just off the Honduran coast and they are an underwater extension of an old volcanic mountain range. Roatan is the largest, about 24 miles long and a little over 2 miles at its widest. It’s nice to hear that Caribbean lilt again. There are around 35,000 people living on Roatan. The large shrimp fleet is based here. It’s the first one that we’ve seen that isn’t rusted to the point of falling apart.
And of course tourism is the biggest part of the economy here. There are more dive centers here than almost anywhere else on the planet. We understand that the diving is incredible. Here you can dive coral gardens, canyons, caves, fissures, deep walls, sunken freighters, airplane wrecks, black coral, and large marine creatures (e.g., sea turtles, groupers, octopi, barracuda, and sharks).The snorkeling has been superb as well. We’ve seen hundreds of creatures. Here’s the short list (!):
Blue Tang (in large schools)
Yellowtail Damselfish (and the incredibly electric blue juvenile!)
Rock Hind Grouper
Spotted Eagle Ray
GORGONIANS (polyps with eight tentacles)
Corky Sea Finger
Black Sea Rod
Bent Sea Rod
Porous Sea Rods
Slit-Pore Sea Rods
Grooved-Blade Sea Whip
Common Sea Fan
Venus Sea Fan
White Encrusting Zoanthid
Christmas Tree Worm
Social Feather Duster
Brown Clustered Tube Sponge
Branching Vase Sponge
Lumpy Overgrowing Sponge
Red Boring Sponge
Spotted Spiny Lobster
Channel Clinging Crab
Batwing Coral Crab
Cushion Sea Star
Red Heart Urchin
Donkey Dung Sea Cucumber
Yes, you really are treated to some pretty amazing spectacles that Mother Nature has to offer, both Good & Bad, glorious and foreboding. Like they say, you’ve got to take the good with the bad in order to get the most out of this life!