Posted by: catamarantwooceans | July 14, 2008

May 2008-Honduras

May 22nd – In Israel time passed quickly. We had a big, very enjoyable and successful party for Gili’s birthday. Gili was born on the same day that Israel was declared to be an independent state so every year we celebrate both events together. This year was very special as it was the 60th Independence Day. Regretfully the country is not in a very good shape compared to Gili, who is in a super condition all around. My daughter, Yael, also had a meaningful birthday and on the 20th my mother celebrated reaching 94.  Between all those happenings the water pumps were reconditioned, I bought two solenoids for the engines kill switch and tried to find crew for the trip to Panama. This last endeavor was not a success. So what do I do? Go back to Rio Dulce and lose the ability to sail during the hurricane season? Looking at the charts I understood that going to Panama necessitated three “overnighters”. Up till now I never did an overnight at sea single-handed, the maximum was the 85 miles I sailed from Virgin Gorda to St. Martin, leaving at about 0330 and reaching destination at 1700. Could I, should I do it? My principle is to sail with crew but the lack of it should not disable me and my plans. In my flying days I did a lot of night flights, 318 from London to Tel Aviv  was one I flew frequently and I never slept there save for some short shuteyes of ten or fifteen minutes during which my sensors were still alert. I could do the same thing while sailing at night! Professional sailors compete around the world single-handed and have a system of sleeping 20 minutes at a time and sailing at the edge of the envelope all the time. I, of course will take things much easier and so decided to go alone.
On the 22nd I flew to La Ceiba via Miami and San Pedro Sula and getting there I found out that the airline left my bag, with all the parts I needed to install, in San P. Adonay, the driver that was supposed to pick me up at the airport was nowhere to be seen. Adonay (My Lord – in biblical Hebrew) took us to San P airport in April, has a good air-conditioned Nissan and a mouth that is active almost all of the time. The marina people think he is trustworthy and arrange for him to take their clients as much as they can. So what happened? I sincerely hoped that he did not go to San Pedro Sula by mistake. Anyway, I found a taxi and went to the marina, stopping on the way at the Mega supermercado in the big mall. Reaching Two Oceans, it was a relief seeing that all is well, the main-sail headboard car arrived and was on the table in company with a bottle of wine, courtesy of the marina’s office. Funnily I did not feel tired, even though I was on the road for about 26 hours. Jet-Lag, I suppose.

May 23rd – Jet- Lag woke me up at 0300 but I dozed until morning light came up at 0515. This was going to be a long, arduous day. I started with the sail car, consulting with the U.S.A agent who sent it to me. Without going into details, let me say it was not very easy but I overcame the difficulties and at 1015 the job was done. During that time Rosie, the marina’s secretary came to tell me that the bag is now in the airport and that I need to go there and let customs check it. Adonay came 15 minutes late and really was a big help. Walking into the baggage room with Chutzpah, me in tow, locating the bag and having a friendly meeting with the customs people who were very interested in the box of Latex gloves I had there, finally helping themselves to a few pairs that will enable them to go into people’s baggage without fear of contamination.
Back on the boat I installed the water pump and was happy to see it did not leak. (Touch wood – I’ll keep an eye on it). The solenoid was another matter. For some reason the moment I turned the battery switch to on it energised and pulled the kill switch. Something is wrong electrically, I’ll need an electrician but until I find one – we’ll go on pulling a rope… I approached one of the boats in the marina, a Baba 40 mono-hull, in the hope of finding some paper charts of the way to Panama and was not disappointed. Michael and Gloria sailed in Panama for eight (!) years and they gladly gave me all they had to copy. I finished my work day by washing the boat, as the local birds were very active moving their bowels while perched on the life-lines, staining the deck. There was even a bird nest inside the forward folds of the main-sail!
I love birds but hey, come for a visit, don’t stay, it’s not your home, It’s mine!

May 24th – Talking to Michael, the Panama veteran, got me thinking: here I am, in the middle of one of the best sailing areas in the world and all I am thinking of is how to get to Panama ASAP. Part of it is the fact that two guys said they might join me there, the 6th of June was mentioned as a possible meeting date. Another reason is the approaching hurricane season. Both can be answered quite easily. Crew can and should join wherever I will be at the time, be it Roatan, Providencia (an island belonging to Columbia off the coast of Nicaragua) or Panama and Tropical Storms are detected well in advance giving a sailor enough time to run for shelter and anyway are very rare in the area in June.
I made a new itinerary that will give me the opportunity to see all the islands and possibly do some diving. The Bay Islands, especially Roatan, are famous as an excellent diving location. Going to and from the airport the day before I learnt that today there is a carnival in town, big parade at one PM and lots of music in the evening. La Ceiba, with a population of 113000 entertained 45000 visitors. I thought of going but was reluctant to be alone in the crowd.  I sat waiting for Rita and Greg to come and move me to an alongside position so that I can leave on Sunday with no need for help – the marina closes every Saturday at 1200 and no services, except security are available. A vision of a quiet bay in Cayo Cochinos passed through my mind. The lure of what we call “E Bay- E for enchanted, was hard to resist and I imagined swimming in clear water, catching a fish for dinner on the way… Of course it is better than getting lost in a multitude of people in a hot, crowded city. I decided to go. Going out was done in low power but once I exited the breakwater I opened the throttles wide and was surprised by the slow response and the fact that both engines did not reach the cruise power of 2500 RPM. The only reason I could think of was that during the 20 days the boat was in the marina it accumulated some marine growth that altered the shape of the propellers. There was no wind but swell on the nose made the boat go at 5-5.4 knots with both engines running and at times when the waves grew bigger – even less. I resolved to check the props upon arrival. Meanwhile a nice Tuna was caught and at about 11 miles from target the wind came from the East North East and very quickly blew at 22-25 knots. I unfurled the jib and shut down the engines, the boat went well but not in the right direction. I thought I could do it with one tack but as always turned too early and was able to sail 15 degrees to starboard of the way-point I planned to reach. At 1.8 miles to it I started the engines, furled the jib and turned closer to the wind, now gusting up to 28 knots true with waves to match. We were moving ever so slowly but in the lee of the island the speed rose and we entered the bay. There were a few moorings but I found it easier to anchor. Five minutes after I did a motor boat came with a park warden and two soldiers. It turned out that anchoring is prohibited and the warden, after taking payment of 10$, helped me tie to one of the moorings. I went into the water to check the props and was astonished by what I saw. The propellers were covered by a thick layer of barnacles and lost their shape completely. They looked more like some kind of cactus with white, round flowers – the barnacles. No wonder the boat did not move! Quick work with a kitchen knife did the trick and I am sure that tomorrow they will perform the way they should.
                                                         

Cayo Cochinos Grande

Cayo Cochinos Grande

Tuna for dinner and the to bed. All the while fierce gusts entered the bay now and again but later subsided leaving a swell that rocked me to sleep.

May 25th – In the morning,after I went out using the starboard engine, I checked the starboard engine room and was dismayed to find water in it. So the leak is still there, but where from? I decided to tighten the band on one of the pipes I suspected to be the culprit. One hour of motoring in the direction of Utila, the western of the Bay Islands group and the place Rita told me was the best for diving  confirmed that the leak did not stop. By the way, propellers are now completely fine. Now my last weapon is to replace the pipe itself. This will be done in Utila later in the day. We covered the 25 miles to Utila in five hours, the first three motoring and when the wind got up to ten knots – we sailed. I dropped the anchor right in front of a dive club, had lunch and dove into the engine room again. Changed the pipe and it looks fine. Let’s hope this is the end of it!
Took the dinghy ashore, arranged the diving for tomorrow and then took a walk in town. A lot of small hotels, restaurants, cafes for the budget travellers and many diving clubs dot the main street.

Utila waterfront

Utila waterfront

Behind it, to the east, there is a mangrove clad lagoon with fishermen homes each with it’s own dock.
Nice place, Utila, reminds me of Tyrrel bay in Carriacu, Grenada.

Behind main street

Behind main street

May 26th – Morning brought a surprise. As I was meditating in bed I felt waves gently rocking the boat. At first I thought a boat was passing by but it did not stop. When I got outside I saw that the wind did a 180 and was now from the west. Absolutely contrary to the forecast and the normal conditions here. Good for going to Roatan in the north east but I wasn’t going sailing, I was going diving with Alton’s dive club. This operation, just like the many others in the island, has also accommodations for the clients, simple rooms that, if I heard correctly, cost 3$ per person per night.

Guesthouse

Guesthouse

Above is the veranda in one of the typical diving hotels here. Talking to the dive-boat skipper I found out that there was a Yanmar shop in the settlement. Had I known this back in April when the water pump problem started!
                                           

Jaimie, our dive-master

Jaimie, our dive-master

On the way to the dive site the skipper put on some country music, we sped forward listening to a romantic tune in which the phrase:”He drinks Tequila and she talks dirty in Spanish” was repeated over and over again. After the two dives, which were nice, I went to look for the Yanmar shop intending to buy some spares and found a note on the door with the strangest office hours: 0630-0730 and 1500-1600. If nobody is in – try the apartment above the shop, this failing – call one of three people listed there. This I had to do at 3 pm. Ronald answered and said he will come in five minutes. He turned to be a jolly big man and I immediately traced his Dutch accent. He came to Utila thirty years ago, has the Cross Creek dive club and hotel and the Yanmar shop is almost a hobby, although he is selling a lot of big engines to the local dive boats. “I go out every two month to Texas in my RV and bring parts, everybody knows about me. How come Rita in Lagoon marina didn’t tell you about me?” How come indeed! Gili, Danny and Karni, who missed seeing the islands due to our water pump failure will freak out when they hear this. After buying new pipes for the engine pump I entered the engine room to install them. I was becoming an expert in dismantling and installing engine water pumps but I couldn’t get rid of the leak! Admitting defeat I decided to stay another day in Utila and seek a mechanic.

May 27th – One of the guys in the dive club said that right on the opposite side of the road there is a mechanic named Danny. The only problem – his shop was closed and he was nowhere to be seen. I walked over a bridge to the south corner of the bay where I saw men working on fishing boats. A man there sent me to a guy called Dave Hines “If anybody can solve your problem – Dave is the man”. I found Dave at his home having a leisurely breakfast. He has a morning job but told me to call him at 1400 and promised to come. True to my nature I rang him precisely on the hour only to have his wife tell me that he went to work. Does she know whether he was coming my way? It slowly became apparent that my chances of seeing him were not so good. As I walked nervously around the dive club I spotted a figure in the shop on the other side of the road. Danny is back! Danny came on board and the first thing he wanted was a beer. “Don’t you want to look at the engine first?” No, this was time for a beer and a cigarette. I’ll make it short – Danny fixed the pump problem and the electrical malfunction of the solenoid, consuming two more beers and smoking three more cigarettes. We had a little discussion about his fee with me making the mistake of translating Lempira, the local currency, to dollars at a rate of 1:10. After the price was agreed upon I suddenly understood that I actually paid about half of what I thought I did. Altogether very reasonable.

Danny the mechanic

Danny the mechanic

May 28th – So now I could leave for Roatan, some 28 miles to the east, against the prevailing wind and seas. But I was not worried, after all I had both engines now! In my imagination, since I did not have very good information about the place, Roatan was an island full of resorts and diving operations. I expected Internet cafes, pizza places, supermarkets, ice cream, a fuel dock was promised by the guide book – the reality was a bit different. At the fuel dock a big ship made an approach impossible. I motored on through a narrow, shallow channel into what my chart called “Old Freanch Harbour” past a stranded monohull on to a bay with simple fishermen houses. Not a pleasant place! Went out to seek a better one for the night and found a creek near Fantasy Island resort in company with three other yachts.

stranded

stranded

In the meantime clouds rolled in and rain started to fall washing the salt off Two Oceans. Tomorrow I’ll visit the resort in the hope they have Internet so I can publish this and get my e-mails.

May 29th – On the chart I copied for French Harbour somebody marked a point and added in German:”Supermarkt sehr gut” so I took the dinghy and went investigating. It’s location was right near the marina in Old French Harbour and when I got there I saw two catamarans tied to the docks. One was “Second wind” a Lagoon 37 with Ken and Roberta Heinrichs, stuck there with transmission problem on both engines and the other “Neos”, a one off 46 footer owned by Sue and Roger Lloyd. We had a very nice conversation and when Ken heard I was looking to buy charts of the area he invited me to bring my computer and download some electronic charts that he had. “It’s free” said he. Well, I always like to reciprocate and after visiting the really Sehr Gut supermarket (except for the lack of fresh fruit and veg) and heading back to my boat I had the idea of giving them some of my frozen Tuna. I called them on the radio to make sure they didn’t have stocks of their own and they were delighted to get them. Now I can resume my fishing and everybody is happy!

Ken

Ken

Sue and Roger

Sue and Roger

Next move was the Resort, where a few yachties sat with their laptops looking at various sites for weather information. Art, my next door neighbour in the bay, showed me that a hurricane is presently hitting the Pacific coast of Nicaragua and that there is a Tropical Wave heading in our direction. It is supposed to pass east of Guanaja, the eastern in the Bay Islands but weather prediction is not an exact science and clearly I cannot proceed to the east as yet. Opening my e mail I saw that Danny Kav, my sailing buddy, who is watching the meteorological picture for me back in Israel, sent a warning about it. Thanks Danny!
Another sailor waiting to go east and then south to Panama is Ben, a young Frenchman, who – together with his girlfriend, Karine – needs to get to Panama on June 13th at the latest. Right now it seems that the earliest time to go will be the 1st of June.
In the afternoon I paid a visit to Art and Joan on “O.K-Fine”. The boat is a heavy displacement ketch (two masts) 41.5 foot long. Art retired from the U.S Air Force in 1973 after 20 year in the service, went on and got a degree in accounting, a profession he practiced for another 15 years. During that time he achieved a Coast Guard Captain licence and after a second retirement in 1988, with Joan at his side (second marriage for both) they operated a yacht charter business in the U.S.V.I. Ten years ago they retired for the third time and started sailing around the Caribbean. In their 20 years in the area they weathered 21 (yes- twenty one) hurricanes, hidden in hurricane holes here and there. Hurricane Katrina hit their boat, they were not on board at the time, and destroyed her. O.K Fine was then bought and they continue this life style.

O.K Fine

O.K Fine

Meeting other cruisers is certainly one of the high points of cruising. You meet people who have a common interest in life and seem to feel genuine comradeship toward each other, always willing to help in word and deed. The phenomenon of cruising people certainly merits sociological research, a thing I am incapable and unwilling to undertake. I will only say that the majority of cruisers I’ve met were happy, or to use a less dramatic word: content. This may be escapism but there are good reasons to escape…

May 30th – sometimes a first impression is misleading, this certainly happened to me here, in Roatan. Leaving the shore and walking inland a bit revealed some nice houses built on large plots with tropical trees surrounding them. Some were more like mansions and one wonders whether they belong to locals or people from richer countries. I know that quite a few Americans have properties here.
Still waiting for the weather to suite my plans. In a way it is frustrating because right now in the anchorage there is almost no wind at all and the sea outside also looks good. The problem lies 30 miles to the east where wind could reach 30 knots…
Not far from where I am there is an Iguana farm that also has a net enclosed basin with big fish, lobsters and turtles. I went to visit and this is what I saw.
                                                               

The Lovelies

The Lovelies

Later in the day I went to the resort to check the weather on the web. I thought that it will be possible to go to Guanaja tomorrow and wait there and agreed to buddy up with Ben for the trip, deciding to go out at 0700. The afternoon added to the frustration as nice westerly started blowing, perfect for the Guanaja trip. In the evening it changed to southerly telling me that the Low was passing.

May 31st – The sun rises early here and so do the yacht people. Art saw me preparing to leave and came over to say goodbye, bringing two slices of chilled watermelon.

Art

Art

At 0700 I came up to Ben’s yacht “Avel-Mad”. Ben had some problem with his anchor. It seems the chain wrapped itself around a rock and the poor guy was diving time and again trying to free it. I didn’t think I could do better than him so we agreed to meet later and I went out of the lagoon to the open sea. The wind was less than 10 knots from the south east and since I wanted to fish I took a tack to the south for about an hour. Right then Ben called to say that they succeeded lifting the anchor and were out. I turned to sail a converging course to theirs and soon understood that sails alone will not do the job. Furled the jib and started both engines straight towards Guanaja. When the wind rose up to 15 knots I decided to try another tack. Called Ben to let him know but there was no response. Tacking back the wind rose further and I needed to reef. I saw Avel-Mad closing distance also with reefed sails. I called again to ask Ben to take a picture of Two Oceans sailing – I still do not have one – but it turned out that Ben had other things on his mind. “Miki, I am now without engine, I will need your help to go into Guanaja”. He went on to say that he thought he was simply out of fuel. That was bad news, firstly – the entrance into the anchorage there is through reefs, better be made with a reliable engine. Secondly, due to the strong wind it did not seem we could get there before 1600, a bit late in the day. I looked at my charts (the copies I made) and the GPS plotter and saw a place called Helen Harbour only six miles away with an anchorage that could be reached sailing. I suggested it to Ben, saying that I will accompany them and assist if necessary. We made the diversion, me going a bit faster, entering the bay, checking the depths (Ben’s boat is a 44 foot mono with 2.1 meters draft) and going out to lead him in. Once they were anchored a fellow with a small row boat came over and offered to bring them diesel fuel. We ended by all going ashore in Ben’s dinghy taking along two of my jerry cans. The guy who came to Ben met us on shore, introduced himself as Odlon and led us to the village’s fuel vendor.
                                                         

Ben and Katrine
Ben and Karine
Odlon
Odlon  
Fuel vendor

Fuel vendor

I helped Ben fill up and went back to my boat. After 40 minutes Ban called on the VHF, when I got up to answer I glanced at his boat and saw water coming out of the exhaust pipe. So the engine is working and we’ll get to Guanaja tomorrow.
That, of course, did not take the weather into consideration. In the evening the wind became even stronger, over 25 knots and some gusts passed 30. The night was dark and I could see lightning on the horizon. I was sitting in the cabin wondering how I can put another anchor in the water and remembering Ben telling me he put out only 30 meters of chain (I had 40) when I saw Avel Mad moving back. I jumped to the VHF: “Ben, you are moving, are you letting out chain or dragging?” The latter was the case and Ben and Karine came out quickly to re-anchor, I could hear them shouting to each other in order to overcome the din made by the wind. I prepared the second anchor on the port bow, motored forward, put the engines in neutral and rushed forward to throw the anchor into the water. My main anchor was holding well but I needed the other one for that additional reassurance that will enable me get some sleep. The lightning came closer and heavy rain poured, the noise of water hitting the cabin top drowned the one made by the wind. In all that I cooked and ate my dinner and then went to sleep.

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