Saturday, December 22, 2012

Honduras and Guatemala (again)

Roatan, Honduras

     For Yatistas,  Roatan is the main island in a sprinkling of beautiful islets, anchorages known as the Bay Islands off of the Honduran coast. A triple-overnighter from Providencia, this time with fair winds and following seas(!), brought us to French Harbour, Roatan, accompanied by seasoned cruiser buddies Norman and Linda on SV Ariel.
     In the 1600's English, French and Dutch pirates descended on these areas, using Roatan as a base for raids on the Spanish Main. Slaves were brought over from Jamaica and abroad, creating the eclectic mix of friendly folk who still inhabit these stunning islands.
      About a dozen sailboats were dotted around the bay, including old cruiser friends Liz and Chris on SV Espiritu. That could only mean one thing…..time for a Jam session! We all converged on the newly-reno'd cruiser hangout of Brooksy Point, run by the lively Luli and Mike, for pizza and sing song.
      Next day we visited the Iguana Farm and were astounded to find a myriad of prehistoric- looking Iguanas in all shapes, sizes and colours, nonchalantly lounging in the trees and sunbathing in the afternoon heat.  Poised in position, and up to 3 feet long, with their glaring eyes, they can appear quite intimidating as they suddenly dart forward and cock their heads ready for a pet and nibble off a cabbage leaf.
      Our days here ended too soon with a stop at the enchanting French Cay islet/resort, where one can swim in turquoise, clear waters or recline under a cabana contemplating life's rich pageant. Next day we left for Utila, another beautiful bay island en route to Guatemala.

Christmas in the Rio Dulce, Guatemala
      Merry Christmas and God Bless Us Everyone!...from the Rio Dulce, (Sweet River), Guatemala. And what a sweet river it is!  We motored up a deep gorge, admiring the towering white cliffs draped in vines on either side. This is where the famous Johnny Weissmuller first flexed his pecs as Tarzan of the Apes. Then the gorge expands into a large, peaceful lake interspersed with small marinas and thatched roof palapa bars. A great arc of a bridge crosses the river at Fronteras, a rather chaotic ‘frontier’ town where chickens and cattle mix with cell-phone shops and mercados selling everything imaginable. 

    We settled in at Marina Nana Juana for the holidays, and soon had little Chantey V looking festive with a wee Charlie Brown Christmas tree and some twinkling lights.  Next day we cycled to Castillo San Fillipe’, an old fortress nearby. Built in defense from the Pirates sacking and pillaging the coast, its’ diminutive scale made it seem more like a children’s playhouse with secret passageways and dank dungeons.
     Christmas Eve we hope to attend a Christmas gift party for the local children and cruisers hosted by Casa Guatemala. On Christmas Day we will be dreaming of home and missing friends and family many miles away. We would like to wish you all the Happiest of Christmas Seasons and Best Wishes for 2013!

“...and so I’m offering this simple phrase,
For kids from one to ninety two,
Although it’s been said, many times, many ways,
Merry Christmas to YOU! “

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Portobello to Bocas del Tores, Panama (Or not!)


The first rule of sailing, as any mariner will tell you, is always wait for a good weather window before heading out. We too, know this rule, but in a moment of bravado, decided to head out from Portobello, Panama, 160 miles en route to Boca del Tores. We intended to get in front of the impending weather predicted a few days ahead, by catching a favourable wind angle and sailing to Bocas. However, the Devil plays with the best laid plans, and we awoke to a calm, clear morning which only confirmed our hopes, and so headed out at 4am.

An hour later we were sailing well with 15-20 knot winds, and rain, which continued to build over the course of the day. By late afternoon the wind had backed onto the nose we were now bogging down with a 2 1/2 knot current running against us. As night descended the waves built up to 6-9 feet with huge swells crashing against our hull in a confused sea! Our progress slowed to a crawl. Rain squalls continued to drench us throughout the night. The next day dawned and we were still far from our destination. Of course, all bad things happen in three's , and the next we knew we hit a clump of seaweed and our prop coughed and sputtered, as if it was about to quit. We decided to try to sail the last 50 miles, doubled reefed only to have 4 sail slugs on the Main shear off, making the sail quite useless. Now we were only using the Headsail, and soon realized we weren't making any real `progress, and were basically standing still! Realizing our predicament, we considered anchoring behind a small island, but could not make it there either. While stopped to consider our options we noticed we were making 4 knots back to Panama! We finally resigned ourselves to turning around. It was a relief to make the right decision, at last, and we turned our course homeward for the long slog back, this time to Shelter Bay Marina, 70 miles away and not far from where we started. With just the headsail we were making almost 9 knots!

We were granted permission to enter Colon Harbour at the Panama Canal, one of the busiest harbours in the world. It was close to midnight on our second day out. The lights of giant freighters mingled with the dock lights. In the maze of coloured lights we picked out the red and green signals of the breakwater and crept into the channel. Between rain squalls we picked our way through the tankers and joined the traffic going in and out of the channel in the pitch dark, the only tiny sailboat in their midst.
Once inside, with the waves still heaving around us, we gradually made out the yellow lights of the small anchorage, or flats, where we hoped to find shelter for the night. As we laid anchor at 2am, massive tankers and tugs were cruising by us in all directions. We turned off the engine and breathed a communal sigh of relief. Then we wrung ourselves out and took off our sopping clothes, completely exhausted and drained. After 48 hours we were almost back where we had started! What an ordeal! But we were soundly tucked away in a safe haven. All we could do was give ourselves a stern talking to, pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start again with a new,( and more sensible) plan, that included allowing for the Caribbean current!

The next day we headed into the comfortable Shelter Bay Marina, where we recounted our tale to old cruiser friends on Camelot and Swift Current, and recalled that old adage…The sea truly is a harsh


Isla Providencia

Pirates - This way please!

      A little piece of Heaven fell from out of the sky one day….and they called it Providencia ('Heaven', in Spanish), and it truly was. A gem of an island situated just off the coast of Nicaragua. This heavily disputed Columbian outpost is home to approximately 4,500 Columbian citizens of Creole, Spanish and Mosquite extraction. Such a placid locale was at one time the lair of Henry Morgan, infamous pirate and notorious bad guy, robbing gold and booty from the Spaniards crossing the Atlantic. As we hiked the jungle trail to Morgan's Head we could feel the spirit of pirates long gone. The mouldering iron cannons still sit on the cliffside, threatening any intruders, and the Lady of the Sea still looks out with foreboding over a treacherous reef-infested coastline, laden with shipwrecks. Back in the sleepy village of Santa Isabella the traditional Creole music blends into Reggae and wafts over the anchorage. No one appears in any hurry to go anywhere. Life is Good.
Two for the road!

"I'm going where the sun keeps shinin', through the pouring rain,
Going where the weather suits my clothes,
Backin' onto the Northeast wind, Sailin' on a summer breeze,
Skippin' over the ocean like a stone."
Midnight Cowboy

Monday, November 19, 2012

Isla Pinos, San Blas, Panama

David on Isla Pinos
Isla Rosario

Our first brief stop was the tiny tourist/resort island of Rosario. We glided into the shallow guided by two young Caballeros in a skiff. They introduced themselves as Mollano and Pepe. Pepe would have made a perfect used car salesman back home. We bartered back and forth and eventually settled on a price for two lobsters and a hand-carved stone tortuga (turtle), with four beers thrown in to seal the deal. Then our two contented entrepreneurs raised their homemade sail and drifted off on the afternoon breeze.        
A tiny island shaped liked a whale came into view, some 26 hours of sailing from Isla Rosario in Colombia. Isla Pinos is home to a small community of the Kuna people, including David, the self-appointed tour guide and techie-guy for the island. He invited us into his traditional home to meet his wife Anna and four children (and one on the way!), and try our hand connecting to internet using his cellphone. He also wanted Daragh to troubleshoot his solar power setup. Inside we saw reed walls and an earth floor all covered by a thatch roof. How they manage monsoon season we will never know. 
We were surprised to see, 
sitting in the middle of it all, a Big Screen TV set! "Two hundred and fifty channels"! he grinned through a set of perfect white teeth. No luck fixing his inverter but we did print off some of his family photos on our boat for him. We wished him well with his ambitious plans for this unspoiled island.

   A short stroll away across fallen tree trunks and flooded pathways, we spied the cemetery. A forlorn and solemn air descended as we viewed the small grave of a young Kuna girl, the red clay partially eroded; a sandal, a sprig of dried flowers, the only offerings and mementos to her short life.

Ustupu to Snug Harbour

   A rough passage and gusty winds brought us through some treacherous reefs to a remote town of three thousand souls, Ustupu. It lies off the infamous Darien Coast of Panama, once noted for its' drug runners and associated ruffians. Quite the contrast to the Kuna people themselves, who are known to be so 'tranquilo'.
Huge waves pounded the coast as we approached the settlement. Fortunately, there was a wide lagoon tucked in behind, and we dropped the hook there.
   While it appeared to be chaotic on the surface, with pigs, chickens and ninos (kids), running higgledy-piggledy, it was actually a thriving community with a government office, recreation centre, and large school.       However, most of the buildings were still constructed of reeds and thatch, many with outdoor facilities.  As we continued our search for the elusive Internet, we met Baudillo, a charming fellow who taught at the high school and to our delight, spoke fluent English! Baudillo had three children and a petite wife, beautifully attired in the local vibrant costume, including hand-crocheted leggings and arm bands. He graciously led us to the school which apparently had a good Internet signal that reached outside the walls. Being Sunday, many students were lounging about glued to their laptops, just like at home! A small group were practicing their ballroom dance steps for the final exam next morning.  Once again, the incongruity of the old world and the new boggled the mind. A phrase translated from the school wall and attributed to an elder and Kuna chief expressed it best….

Baudillo at the schoolhouse
" I only hope, by the land of my elders, for an atmosphere of peace and tranquility, and pure air, that we can live happily for the children of the land where we were born."

On The Reef in Coco Banderas!!

SV Respite
Coral Reef at Coco Banderas
The day started out as usual, with clear, sunny skies and calm waters, but alas it was not to be. After we hoisted anchor and aimed the bow towards our pre-set return route out of Coco Banderas, suddenly we heard a dull thud and felt the prop grind to a halt on an unsuspected coral reef!  Our worst fears surfaced as we imagined our helpless Chantey being heeled over and blown onto the reef!  Frantically Daragh jumped into the dinghy and dragged the 
anchor towards the deep water to pull us off. The keel and rudder were wedged 
between the coral and wouldn't budge! At 

that moment two angels appeared in the form of Mike and Gloria, on board SV Respite. They helped pull with their dinghy, and with a little luck o' the Irish (and a few Hail Mary's) we felt the boat give way and slowly drift back into the channel. Daragh checked the prop and rudder, which luckily only had a few chunks out of them, and we were able to continue on our way once more. Whew!   Ooblahdee, Ooblahda...... Another nail-biter, and memorable moment of life on board Chantey V.


Mola Lisa
Happy Hour on Chantey V
     Our final stop in the San Blas was the serene, coconut cluttered palm trees of Chichime Anchorage. After we had set anchor an old dugout floated quietly alongside. "Bienvenidos!".  A cheerful welcome was offered by the smiling Kuna lady in the stern of the canoe. She introduced herself as Lisa, or "Mola-Lisa", master Mola Maker,( the embroidered appliqué designs of the region). We invited her aboard to show us her art. Lisa, it turns out, happens to be a transvestite, an apparently not uncommon and acceptable lifestyle choice in the Kuna culture. We chatted with her and Daragh chose a particularly intricate bird design. Then we watched as she paddled slowly out to sea and back across the miles to her mainland village. Hmmm......She wore the same mysterious smile as the woman in that famous painting! 
      The next morning we left the San Blas bound for Turtle Cay Marina, a few creature comforts, and to meet up with cruising buddies on "SV I Yam What I Yam". No not Popeye, but Larry and Sandy, of Vancouver, BC. and just in time for Happy Hour!