Another line handler transit of the Panama Canal

Friday morning we were up early and got ourselves organised for another Panama Canal transit.   We packed our bags, had a decent brunch, and went over to meet Derek and Allison on Arielle – which is a 50 foot Tayana – at 1.30 pm.  Shortly afterwards Terry and Carol, our dock neighbours, joined us and we slipped away from the marina.   We motored over towards the flats and dropped anchor…and wondered how long we would have to wait this time.   Well, amazingly at 3.30 the adviser turned up – only 30 minutes behind Arielle’s allocated time – so all three boats started motoring towards the Gatun Locks through the shipping lines and trying to stay away from the tugs that create huge wakes.   And we enjoyed waving to the Saga Cruise Ship that had just transited the Canal.

Our fellow rafters were a 42 foot French boat and Chris on Sea Bear, which is a 28 foot Vancouver.    We approached the locks and we were impressed by our adviser as he gave clear and succinct instructions to the whole fleet.  We rafted up – with us in the middle – and, usually, that would mean we would sit there and do nothing other than drive the boats through.  Well, as Sea Bear is so small we had to do the bow and stern lines too…so they sat and watched us!  

Into the first lock and we pulled the lines taut to the wall….then the water started coming in strongly and, of course, we have the starboard wall lines at a longer stretch as we had to allow for Sea Bear’s width too…and this is the tougher side.  So Richard and I took the bow and worked it together. 

We were having an uneventful time until the line handlers on the shore got the ropes caught on the wall as we moved between locks…so there was some shouting and hollering before they cleared it.  There was a real risk of propping one of these ropes but luckily Sea Bear were able to keep the line out of the water despite it running behind us.   Something else to watch out for!    But mainly we had a good run through the three locks and, unlike last time, it was still daylight when we arrived in Gatun Lake.

We tied up to the large plastic mooring ball and the adviser was collected by his launch.   We helped Sea Bear raft to the other side and we sat there watching the sun go down having a cold beer and a chilli con carne dinner.  

At 9 pm we headed to bed – it had been a long tiring day.  Richard and I had drawn the short straw so had not got the double berth in the forepeak.   I had a pilot berth and Richard had the saloon settee….but there are no fans on this boat!!!   It was blisteringly hot and within minutes I knew I could not sleep on that berth….so we took ourselves off to the cockpit.

At 5.00 am on Saturday morning a big ship was coming through the new lock and the whistles and horns woke me up.  So we gathered our thoughts…and took advantage of the heads being free to get washed up and changed.   By the time the sun came up we were ready….and the others were just starting to stir…when the adviser turned up!!!  

Yes…it was only just gone 7.00 am in the morning….    Great – so we untied the raft and motored across the Gatun Lake having a lovely cup of tea (as you would expect with a 100% British crew LOL) and breakfast whilst admiring the sights of the huge dredging operation to cut through the solid rock and widen the canal…and the massive maintenance areas.

Finally we arrived at the first lock of the day around 11.00 am and rafted up again and got ourselves settled.   All went well…and then it was time to go down again….this time in the lock furthest away from the visitor centre so there wasn’t any waving to the tourists.   And there was no big ship either – just a large 100 foot+ training schooner, a tourist trip boat and our raft.   

Eventually we cleared the locks and said hello to the Pacific again.  Woo hoo – another successful transit!   We unrafted and motored towards the Balbao yacht club admiring the huge tall ship as we went through…and saying goodbye to our adviser when his launch came to pick him up.

We picked up a mooring ball and said our farewells to Allison and Derek before heading over to land on the water taxi.   Sea Bear crew were not long behind us.  I’d arranged for Mr Stanley to take us all back in his bus so we had a couple of pitchers of beer in the yacht club while we waited – we were almost four hours ahead of our last transit.  

We drove back to Shelter Bay Marina – again on the Caribbean side – by 5.30 pm.  We had a couple of cold ones in the bar and a quick dinner before returning to Morphie for a lovely shower and an early night.   We feel completely ready for our own Canal Transit now – just need two more line handlers.   Everyone that has come to speak to us so far wants to crew all the way across the Pacific – er no thanks….    We have put an advert up on the noticeboard so hope that will get us sorted soon.   

Sunday morning and we bumped into Charlie and Saundra who were at the Cruisers Palapa.   Their big news was that the odious John had left the boat.  Woo hoo…excitement and happy dancing!!!  Glad we don’t have to see his ugly mug ever again.   We did a few jobs on board and met up with them for a bobbing session in the pool later in the afternoon.  

We did intend to go the BBQ in the evening but tiredness overtook us and we had another early night.

This morning, Monday, and we were back on the shopping bus at 7.45 am.   Another big shop…and another trip back via the ferry on the supermarket’s complimentary van.  Not the most comfortable ride but it does save us $30 plus tip…  

We got back to Morphie and put it all away – the back cabin is swiftly turning into a garage – and then took a rest.   We are now in the Cruisers Lounge trying to catch up on internet jobs….more boat jobs beckon tomorrow.

Bye for now

Jan      

Panama Canal transit as a line handler

Monday morning Phil on Wandering Star had been told that his time to be at the flats anchorage was not until 3.30 – so we decided to have lunch whilst waiting to leave.   In the restaurant we watched a guy cut away his damaged mainsail – ouch, that’s going to hurt his pocket!!!

By 2.30 we were on board, had made our way out of the marina and had crossed the shipping lanes to the flats ‘holding area’.   We had a cruise ship as well as cargo vessels this time.    

We stooged around for a while…and eventually anchored….while we waited.     At around five a launch came out and deposited an adviser on each of the three yachts – one catamaran and two monohulls. We then all picked up anchor and motored towards the locks.    The advisers had decided that the catamaran would be the centre of the raft and that we would raft together outside of the first lock.   There was a huge ship waiting for us in there to join him – so big that he only had two foot either side of him.   

We were told to come alongside the starboard side of the catamaran but he was all over the place and couldn’t hold it straight despite his two engines.  When Phil complained he was told it was because of the wind.    This put our captain and the lead adviser at odds straight away – not a good start!   Anyway…eventually we got rafted together…and moved towards the lock. 

We were crabbing sideways awaiting instruction and the calls from the adviser were late – meaning we were heading at the wall often.  Phil ignored the adviser and, when he wasn’t watching, put his engine in gear and pushed on the raft to try and keep it straight.    He did get told off a few times!!!   But I’m sure we would have done the same in the circumstances.  The other monohull could have helped but, for whatever reason, decided not to.  

Once inside the lock the guys on top of the walls threw their monkey fists to the centre of the boat – with one line for the stern and one for the bow.   Once the raft was in place the line handlers on both sides of the canal pulled through the 125 foot lines Phil had rented and placed them over the cleats on top of the wall.  It is now the responsibility of the boat line handlers to ease / harden up as the lock fills with water.  

The pressure on the boat was huge in the turbulent waters and the monohull on the other side of the raft was getting closer and closer to the wall….the girls on the bow kept on taking up slack so we had to ask them to ease so that we could try and sweat some more line our side to keep the raft in the middle.    This was very difficult with the pressures being exerted but Richard, Chris and Phil managed it between them.   So communication across the two outer boats – despite the adviser instructions – needs to be good so something to watch out for.

Finally we had been raised up almost 28 feet and the ship was moved forward by his trains / mules – amazing.   We recovered our long lines and again were walked through by the advisers on top of the walls with their thin lines…under our own propulsion.   And the whole process starts again…..

 

And then we go through to the final lock of the day and do it all again.    We went through three locks and got raised up 28 feet each time.  

Finally we were spat out of the locks after the ship had departed, we un-rafted and took off for Gatun Lake.  We arrived behind the other two boats and, despite our adviser insisting on us rafting to the huge mooring ball, we anchored instead.   And of course this is all in the dark as it was around 7.30pm by now.   The launch boat came and picked our adviser up, we said our goodbyes, and we had dinner and a couple of beers.  At this point Richard and I decided to sleep in the cockpit.   We were asleep when we had a little shower but it stopped so we stayed put despite being a little damp – then just as we were asleep again the heavens opened hard.  We got soaked so took ourselves off to the forepeak cabin for the rest of the night.

Tuesday morning and we were up early having breakfast awaiting our next adviser who was scheduled from seven.

He finally turned up around nine…and we picked up anchor….and motored the thirty odd miles through the picturesque lake while he dozed…avoiding the ships and admiring the scenery as we passed through gorges and under the bridge.   

We finally arrived at the Miraflores Locks and we rafted to the catamaran only – the other monohull ended up in the other chamber rafted to a large tug like ship.   We were tied to the wall ready to go and then we waited…and waited….and waited.   We were apparently waiting for another huge ship which, in this lock, comes in behind us. He arrived…and edged slowly closer…and closer….being inched forward by his mules.   

Finally we were all set and the water drained…so this time we are going downwards with the walls rising above us.   This is just fascinating to watch.   

Eventually we were at the bottom and the huge lock gates opened and created turbulence.  We left the lock as a raft and motored towards the next and final lock of the transit.   

The catamaran was gunning it and Phil had to work his engine hard to keep the raft together and not get any cleats pulled out of the deck.   Another valuable lesson – ensure that the boats agree a mutual speed when travelling together in a raft.  Also, there was no point putting that much strain on the boats as we had to wait for the ship to be released from the lock and come in behind us at the next so there was plenty of time.  

Anyway…as we arrived at the final lock the current was pushing us forward even faster and we had to shout at our line handler on the wall to get the line over the cleat in time!!!  

Finally we got secured to the wall once again just behind the lock gates and just waited.  Our adviser was asleep again at this stage – he wasn’t that friendly and quite stand offish – unlike our guy from day one who was pretty chatty.    We were entertained by the visitors centre full of tourists watching over the locks so we did wave to a few….  By five we were still there and the ship is coming in behind us…but the tourists were going to miss our transit as the centre was closing for the day.  

Never mind….the ship was in position…and the water started to drain.    Again the walls rose above us and we worked the lines to deal with the turbulent waters…until finally the gates opened and we were spat out into the Pacific.  Woo hoo!!!   It is hard to describe how impressive this whole process is.     

As we motored towards the Balbao Yacht Club the modern skyscrapers of Panama City poked through behind the docks.   Eventually we arrived and picked up a mooring ball – were taken ashore by a water taxi – said quick farewells and were picked up by our taxi driver.   It had been a long transit as we didn’t arrive until almost six pm.  

Mr Stanley then drove like a bat out of hell and eventually we were in Colon waiting for the ferry across the canal.   Eventually we arrived at Shelter Bay Marina around nine so we went straight to Morphie, got cleaned up, downed a couple of beers and so to bed.   It had been a tiring couple of days.

Wednesday morning we were booked to go to Colon on the shopping bus…at 7.45 am.   So no lazing around!   We headed off to Millenium Mall first – to visit the huge hardware store.  We did actually find some things we had been looking for – a grease gun, some citronella anti-mosquito candles and of course more nuts and bolts.    We then took a $3 cab ride back to 4 Altos and Rey Supermarket.  Everyone told us to use the Chinese supermarket for cheap booze but we weren’t enamoured so headed back to the main store.   Also the Free Zone had very cheap booze but you have to pay $125 to the adviser who delivers it to the marina to ensure it does actually go on a boat.    Unless you are buying cases and cases the savings aren’t worth it.    

We did a huge shop – again – and this time the van wasn’t available so we cabbed it back.   We have lots of beer, wine, rum, vodka and Baileys on board now plus months of food supplies.   Was absolutely worn out by the time we had unpacked and stowed it all…so took ourselves off to the hot tub to bob.   We were joined by Charlie and Saundra and enjoyed relaxing.   Later on we enjoyed a lovely steak and salad dinner washed down by a few more cold ones.     

This morning, Thursday, and we headed to the cruisers lounge early to catch up on a few things – not least sending pdfs of our documentation to the Agent in the Galapagos in preparation for our Autografo.   A yoga class was underway so again we had to sneak behind the bookcases LOL.    We are confirmed to go through the canal again on another boat on Friday so will be interesting to see how that transit goes.   Tonight Charlie and Saundra are coming over for fish tacos – we are going to cook up some of Richard’s mahi mahi – so looking forward to that.

Bye for now

Jan

Preparations in Panama

Thursday morning and the authorities turned up to measure Morphie for her Canal transit.   They spent about 20 minutes on board and declared her officially to be 43.3 feet long in total (as they include the dinghy on the arch in their calculation).  That’s fine as there is a set transit price providing the boat is less than 50 feet.  They took off to visit another boat while we got all our paperwork together…then we met the officials in the restaurant later on.   We filled in more forms and answered lots more questions and, finally, after about 45 minutes we were given our Panama Canal official number which is valid for Morphie’s lifetime.    

Back on board we turned the boat around.   Morphie originally had her stern to the wind and we needed to get our main sail off – so Richard calmly reversed out, turned us around, and reversed back in.  Great job!    Oh yes…and spot her brand new Ensign flying proudly.

Back in the slip we took the main off, removed the batons, and delivered it to the sail loft.   April and Cain run the sail loft here and, coincidentally, we had met them previously in both Grenada and Union Island.   It was nice to catch up with them again.    We dropped off the sail – they promised to turn it around quickly – and we took ourselves off to bob in the Jacuzzi. 

We endured a round of Marco Polo by the teenagers playing – this is the most annoying game in the whole damn world – and finally they moved on as the cruisers moved in for their water aerobics session.  This was all from the privacy of the hot tub – which isn’t very hot or very bubbly – whist drinking cold beers.   Was a great way to spend a few hours LOL.

Thursday night we went to the cruisers lounge to listen to a talk by a doctor giving advice on medical issues at sea and recommendations for our first aid kit.   It was pretty interesting and quite well attended.  

Later on, back on board, and the wind picked up…which meant that the furling apparatus inside the mast, not being restricted by a sail wrapped around it, started banging like crazy.  It is a horrendous sound and we (and our neighbours) had to endure it all night….   Not good!!!   But it was a beautiful moonlit night.

Friday morning we were up very early and caught the marina’s complimentary shopping bus into town.   The bus went through the canal area and got caught up in traffic jams caused by huge cargo ships – not sure I’ll ever get used to the sight of ships across the road!    We arrived early at the ‘mall’ which was really just a parade of shops and they hadn’t all opened yet.   We wandered around and I found a hairdresser – badly in need of a cut I went mad and had my hair cut very short.   The lady was lovely and even trimmed my eyebrows for me – all for $25.  Felt like quite a treat.  Then we went to the department store and I managed to buy a watch for $23 to replace my other cheap one that had broken this season.   After that we headed to the Rey Supermarket.

Rey offer a free van ride back to the marina providing you spend over $300 so we arranged this before we did our shopping.   Huge supermarket and we were able to get most things on our list.   An hour and a half later we were laden down, considerably poorer, and we got into the van.    This was not the most comfortable ride but I enjoyed the Untouchables DVD in Spanish as we waited in traffic. 

We travelled back using the ferry and we missed the first one so sat for quite a while at the front of the queue admiring the huge bridge being constructed and watched the ships going by.  

Finally it was our turn and we drove on board….sat at the front…and took off across the Canal.  Thoroughly enjoyed it! 

The rest of the afternoon was spent unloading our goodies, finding places to store it all, and packing the freezer up.    Our sail was ready for collection but the 20+ knots of breeze meant that we weren’t able to hoist it on safely…so we apologised to our neighbours in advance of another noisy night on the dock.  They were mostly pretty good about it to be fair.   Later on, feeling pretty jaded, we headed to the bar for happy hour and caught up with Charlie and Saundra who had arrived on Island Sol that morning.  John is still travelling with them but he is staying away from us thankfully.

Saturday morning and we put out a request for help on the cruisers net – we wanted to get that sail back on and there was no sign of the wind abating.  So with assistance from another UK boat we managed to get it hoisted and furled way.   Glad that was done…the noise was driving us crazy!!

We then knuckled down to more boat jobs:  fixing the macerator leak;  reattaching the handles on dink;  more engine checks;  identified a small leak in the cutlass bearing which will have to be replaced in New Zealand but not an issue for this season;  did a transmission oil check; and cleared the back cabin in readiness for our line handlers who will need somewhere to sleep during our transit.

Our agent Erick came by….sorted out more paperwork and we scheduled our transit for Saturday 25 February.   And we paid our fees which were almost $1500 in total, but it does include our Zarpe too.    Oh yes…in the meantime, we had replied to a couple of requests for line handlers…and actually got accepted on two yachts woo hoo!!!!   

The line handlers here charge $100 per person so most cruisers use others who are looking for the experience on an expenses-paid basis only.  So the first transit we are doing – as line handlers – is Monday on a US-flagged 49ft Irwin called Wandering Star.  

So Richard gets out of treating me to a Valentine’s Day dinner as we’ll be on our way back from the Pacific Coast on Tuesday night…..never mind.    It is all very exciting – we are thoroughly looking forward to the experience.

Saturday night we went to the bar for happy hour – treating Chris who assisted us hoisting the sail to a few beers.   He was a professional mountain climber / guide before he retired and sailed across the pond to the Caribbean.   Interesting people you meet in this life or what?!?   We ended up staying for the Open Mic night and listened to a variety of music which was all very social and jolly.

Sunday morning we spent in the cruisers lounge catching up on some internet jobs having eaten breakfast in the restaurant first as a treat.   The Christian Union were having a meeting so we hid behind the bookcases and tried not to make a noise, especially when they started prayers and singing hymns.   Soon they had left and we were able to talk again…..  

The main task was to check our KAP files were all working OK on OpenCPN for the trip to the Galapagos and beyond.   Tick….    We then downloaded the Galapagos rules and researched an Agent.  We found one – who speaks very little English – but he is highly recommended by other cruisers so we sent him an e-mail.   Tick….  Without a local agent the port captain can let you stay at his own discretion for a period of up to 21 days – but there is no guarantee and those without agents get moved on if the anchorage becomes too crowded – despite paying over $1k to be there.   We really don’t want to miss out on these iconic islands so we’re just chucking money at it again…sigh….but at least the future long passages means we won’t be spending much cash going forward LOL.

In the afternoon we had a little bob in the hot tub with Charlie and Saundra before rushing back to Morphie to prepare food to take to the Cruisers Palapa for BBQ and potluck night.    We had planned an early night but got caught up in conversation with some other British cruisers and, before you know it, it was almost 11pm!    And I forgot the camera….

This morning, Monday, and we’re up early.   I’m blogging and then we are going to pack our bag for our transit this afternoon and just relax and chill waiting for the radio call to tell us what time we need to go to Wandering Star.   Tonight, providing the transit doesn’t get delayed, we should spend on anchor in Gatun Lake….    What fun!

Bye for now

Jan      

Providencia (Columbia) to Panama

Friday morning we returned to Mr Bush with the passports and were told to come back at five for our Zarpe (exit documentation).   We wandered around and spent the remainder of our Colombian Pesos on exciting stuff like bread and diet Pepsi.   The last few quid were donated to the guy who sits on the pavement each day begging for money for medical supplies to dress his wounds – despite us not giving him anything he has been a friendly face wanting to chat each day – so we gave him everything that we had left.   We also chatted to a mum with her new puppy.   Boat puppy material????

Mission accomplished we went back to Morphie and did our final pre-passage checks and a bit of passage cooking before returning to Mr Bush’s office yet again.   This time the official was late so we sat and waited on his balcony. 

Mr Bush told us how the whole country was being ruined by corruption…and how all English people are rich.   We didn’t challenge his view of the world but thought it quite ironic that the one guy who doesn’t advertise a price for his services was the one making this point.   He was pretty vague about pricing when challenged too…clearly the price we got charged reflected our nationality.   

Eventually, about an hour later, we had the important piece of paper in our hands and were good to go.  We shook hands, headed off back to Morphie in dink, and had a quiet evening in the cockpit watching the supply ship at anchor which supplied the barge which is towed into the town dock each night to be unloaded.   They were moving huge amounts of building materials for their ongoing roadwork programme.

Saturday morning by 8.15 we had lifted our anchor and said our goodbyes to Island Sol on the radio.    We had enjoyed our time here but were keen to get moving.   We headed out of the channel into 17 knots of breeze and pulled out the sails.    We started off with one reef in the genoa and one in the main and the wind filled in to 25 knots as we got further out. We were going along nicely in the swelly conditions with the odd rogue wave hitting us for six.    It was turning into a bit of a rolly ride and by 1pm we had scattered showers and squalls too.   Suddenly at 2pm the wind strengthened again and it changed direction so that we were now beating rather than enjoying a reach.  Oh well…never mind…Morphie was just loving it.   

At 5pm we came off the wind 15 degrees to flatten the boat for dinner as we continued to be beaten up by rogue waves.   The weather pattern in this part of the world often means that the wind strengthens during the night so we reefed down further as we went into our night shift and we passed San Andres to starboard.   During the night a small bird came by and took refuge on our solar panels for a while – I thought he was going to die up there – but after about an hour he took off again.  At 9pm the wind had died down and we put our engines on to charge our batteries and hardened up on the main.   Come 10pm I’m dodging underwater mountains off the edge of a huge dangerous reef system and the wind started filling in so by 11 pm the engine was off and we’re climbing back up to the rhumb line with the wind shift.   The bilge pump decided to play up so we started pumping the bilge manually every time we did our hourly log.

By 3am on Sunday the wind had eased back to 19 knots so we let out the genoa and hardened up the main to increase our speed.  Again the wind was gusting to 25 knots but as we were now on a broad reach this was just plain fun….despite the waves.  Not a bad sunrise either.

At 9am on Sunday the seas started to flatten.  As we headed towards Panama we were on schedule – based on 5 knots of speed over the ground – and we started to see some ship traffic.    Was a pretty uneventful day until four when Richard had to change direction to allow Rickmeers Malaysia to cross our bow.  By eight in the evening I had three ships keeping me company on the AIS but couldn’t get a visual on them in the gloomy conditions.   And, of course, at this point the AIS started to play up and we lost our satellite connection.   Great!   Never mind we have eyes…and we managed to reconnect to the satellites…and were excited at 3am on Monday when the wind shifted to the north.   A downwind leg…woo hoo….   Morphie loves sailing downwind on just her genoa so the main was put away and we continued towards Panama.

We had a few more ship encounters but this time they changed course for us – BBC Canada did it without asking although we had to request Xpress Tajumulco to move.   At 15 miles to the waypoint off the Panama Canal breakwater the AIS was absolutely frightening with the amount of ships that were there….many of them were at anchor and some were heading with us towards the Canal and others continued their journey having completed the transit.   

By 11am we were heading towards the ship anchorage and we had been given permission by the controlling authorities to call again when a mile away….so we sailed through. They look horrendously close on the AIS but, in reality, they were pretty well spaced so we kept on sailing until we had to call the authorities again and we put the sails away.

By 12 noon we were four miles off our waypoint and about an hour behind our planned schedule.  

We got permission to go straight through as we approached the breakwater and we went in as a huge ship went out the other side of the channel, whilst we bid farewell to the Caribbean Sea…..  

We then turned immediately to starboard and made our way along the breakwater and through the inside ship anchorage (for dangerous cargoes apparently) until we got to Shelter Bay marina.  

We were secure on our slip by just before 2pm.   Was another successful 265 mile passage in the bag.

We got ourselves signed into the marina and organised a Ship’s Agent through the recommendation of the office.   We need an Agent for our transit through the canal and apparently Erick can help us with the checking in process too.   The guy was contacted…he sent us an email…and within an hour he was hired and we had made arrangements for him to come by the boat on Tuesday to take us to Colon.

We washed Morphie down…we cleaned ourselves up….and we proceeded to drink and celebrate in the cockpit before having an early night and a great sleep.   We were very excited to have reached Panama – felt very proud of ourselves LOL.

Tuesday morning and we got all the photocopies needed for the various officials together and Erick picked us up.  We had also emailed him all the information he needs for our transit so that he can go ahead and organise for Morphie to be measured.  We drove out of the marina – through heavily armed security guards – and along a paved road through the jungle.  We then came to a traffic jam and we were astonished to see ships passing ahead!   

OMG we are going to go across the canal in the car.   Then we carried on through the security checkpoints etc and ended up crossing the next (new) canal.   The ships are huge, the locks are massive, the gates are enormous…..will be an experience in Morphie that’s for sure!

On the way to Colon, Erick explained that the town was a slum and that it was not safe for us to walk anywhere.  We had read this but were surprised by how vehemently he told us to be careful.  So very grateful for a lift from someone who knows what he is doing – we stopped first at the Port Captain’s office.  

We had lots of paperwork already put together by Erick and all we had to do was pass it over.  Erick continued on to Panama City and left us with a trusted taxi driver.  Well….the port captain was out on a commercial vessel…so we had to wait…and wait…and wait.     Erick phones the taxi driver to check everything is OK and he chases the Port Captain and tells us not to pay overtime to the immigration official if we arrive after 3pm as he will sort it.    We were very grateful for this hand holding.   Eventually the Port Captain arrived and stamped our paperwork…and we moved on to immigration. 

The drive took us through the centre of Colon and we were shocked – it really is a dilapidated slum with broken down buildings and rubbish strewn everywhere.   We saw kids picking through the rubbish too….   Glad we were in a taxi with blacked-out windows!    We made it to immigration – before the 3pm overtime deadline – and that was us done for the day.

We headed back to Shelter Bay and wandered around the marina for a little while….  The facilities here are very good with a great cruisers lounge / TV / internet, a restaurant, a bar, a jacuzzi and a pool.   We also found the minimarket and the laundry.    We had a bite to eat in the restaurant and then went back to Morphie for a few hours.  We got cleaned up and headed back to the bar for happy hour before having another early night as we were pretty shattered from our day out.

This morning, Wednesday, and we got an email from Erick to say that the official to measure the boat wasn’t free today but he’d let us know again tomorrow.    Great communications – this guy is good!    He is also going to collect more paperwork from us tomorrow so that he can organise our cruising permit and visas.   So very glad we don’t have to sort all this out ourselves.    

After breakfast we sat down and talked through our provisioning – we want to have at least four months supplies on board when we leave here – so we worked out menus and I wrote lists of ingredients…plus basics of course like chocolate and crisps!     Then we checked off what we had already on board and made a shopping list.    The marina offers a complimentary daily service into a safe shopping mall in Colon which has a good supermarket – so we are keen to take advantage of that once we have a date in the diary for our measurement process.

I took myself off to blog in the cruisers lounge – via the laundry – while Richard cleaned the boat down below.     We have a few jobs we want to do on Morphie still before we transit so will be busy beavering away at lists again – but am hoping to get in that pool some day soon! 

Bye for now

Jan

Exploring Providencia

Saturday afternoon we wandered around the town and Richard managed to seek out three hardware stores, but only managed to buy something in two of them LOL.    It was surprisingly busy as a ferry had just come in from San Andres.

We want to explore this mountainous island so decided to rent a Kawasaki mule for the Sunday.   All done we had a couple of beers in the local bar – which actually means sitting on plastic chairs on the pavement watching the world go by – and chatted to Russell a cruiser from Boston who spends much of the year here.   We enjoyed watching the kids pulling wheelies on their bikes and check out this photo – two kids / two bikes / three wheels only!!!  

Providencia belongs to Colombia despite its location alongside Nicaragua and midway between Costa Rica and Jamaica in the Caribbean sea.   The peak is 360m above sea level with the interior covered by lush vegetation with the small (6k) population living largely along the coastline.   We are anchored in front of the town dock with Santa Catalina off to our port.    Santa Catalina is linked to the mainland by a lovers bridge.

Providencia was the site of an English Puritan colony established in 1629 by the Providence Island Company.  The pirate Henry Morgan used the island as a base for raiding the Spanish empire and rumours suggest that much of his treasure remains hidden on the island.   Many parts of the island are named after Morgan and forts and cannons dating back hundreds of years can be found scattered all over Santa Catalina Island.  Despite its Columbian ownership the inhabitants largely speak English or Creole rather than Spanish – and there are many Rastafarians here.   The locals are certainly very friendly and it feels much more Caribbean than South American.

Sunday morning we took off in our mule and drove around the island following the only main coast road.    

At the bottom of the island we came across South West Beach and liked the vibe here…lots of local beach bars and loud music.  Behind the shack called Wild Girl we found a bamboo construction where two guys were cooking over open fires – they showed us their local speciality soups and iguana and we said we would be back for some later.  Not sure they believed us LOL.  

We continued admiring the various sights and the lovely scenery – especially Morgan’s Arse. We’ll leave you to decide why they call it that!   

We enjoyed listening to the wonderful singing coming from the many churches as we passed them on the road.   Some of the people live in very poor conditions compared to other quite modern and large properties.  And the colours of the sea have to be seen to be believed!    Oh yes and we spotted this iguana having a rest.

After our circumnavigation of this island – 4 miles long by 2 1/2 miles at its widest – which only took a couple of hours we returned to South West Beach and parked our mule on the sand just behind Wild Girl.  

We took a couple of seats in the shade – much to the surprise of all the locals eating there – and ordered the mixed meat soup which included pig tails, cow feet and cow shins, plaintain, yams, onions, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes etc etc etc.   Well…the food was absolutely fantastic!   The cook – who doubles up as a hospital maintenance man for his real job – was delighted we had come back and spent some time chatting with us.   Definitely a family affair as his wife, daughters and grandchildren were there too.   

Having eaten our fill we went into the water for a bobbing session.  It was lovely and we were joined by all the local children who seemed to find us very entertaining.   Eventually the kids got a bit too boisterous for us so we retired to our table, paid up and wandered further down the beach towards the headland.

We spotted a few other places along the way – largely inhabited by tourists – and ended up at Richard’s Place.  Richard, a Rasta man and his Colombian wife, made us very welcome.   We also tried a new Colombian beer and this is our favourite so far.  

We had a lovely time chilling out and then John turned up.  Of all the beaches on this island he had to find ours LOL.    Never mind, he only stayed about 15 minutes before he left to try the highly-recommended local soup at Wild Girl.   We carried on chilling and enjoying the vibe of this place before returning to our mule.

On the way back we decided we couldn’t be bothered to cook any dinner – so ended up stopping off at the fried chicken shop for a takeaway.   At the dinghy dock John wanted to cadge a ride back to Island Sol as Charlie and Saundra had left before him – we decided to be nice and did actually give him a lift.     Doesn’t Morphie look lovely in the sunset?

Back to Morphie we devoured our chicken, had a few more cold ones, and then had an early night.   We had had a perfect Sunday.

Monday morning we were up very early.   The mule had to be returned by 10.30 am so we took five 5gl diesel jugs ashore along with three petrol cans.    We drove to the island’s only petrol station – topped up the mule – and filled up on fuel for Morphie.   Back on board we got busy.   Richard Mclubed the genoa car tracks and the main sheet traveller;  and serviced two winches.   They are all running much smoother now.   In the meantime I did laundry, we ran the generator and made water.

Later in the afternoon we went ashore to Mr Bush to collect our tourist visas before going over to Santa Catalina island expecting the SeaShore bar to be open.  Well…it wasn’t…..and we waited…and waited…and waited.  Eventually a local guy decided they weren’t coming after all – despite telling us earlier that it would be open – and we took ourselves off into town.   We sat on the pavement drinking cold beer talking to Russell and his Colombian wife who had flown in that day.  The anchorage was moody looking in the dull weather.  

The rain came down hard, it was getting cold and the wind was howling.  Waiting for a lull in the weather to head back out all of a sudden two locals shouted at Russell that he had to leave as a boat had dragged into his.   We all jumped into our boats and went to see what had happened.  Two local lads jumped on board and started to get the boats untangled…we offered to help but some more locals came out with big boats to pull the unoccupied dragged boat into a new position so we were superfluous to requirements and returned to Morphie for an early night once all the drama had finished.

Tuesday morning more boat jobs…..Richard fixed a dinghy ratchet that had broken;  took a few turns off the genoa furler and rethreaded it;  and cleaned the engine compartment.  I did some more laundry and scrubbed the heads.   Lunchtime we went into town to fix up a taxi for Wednesday – Saundra’s birthday – as we are planning to go back to South West Beach as they haven’t been there yet.   Job sorted we had some lunch out, got some drinking vouchers from the ATM, and some fresh bread from the supermarket.

Later in the afternoon we headed ashore to Santa Catalina and parked dink up at the dock and went for a stroll.   We walked along the concrete walkway that borders the island and came across another local bar and restaurant.   We continued to the end until we came across steps going up and over the hill – wasn’t sure my leg was up to it – so we returned to dink, admiring the baby eagle ray in the shallow water and the view of the anchorage.

Back in dink we headed off to Morgan’s Head.   This is a lovely bit of coastline with lots of rocks beneath the surface, beautiful palm trees, and this great rock head.   

We spotted a beach shack nestled into a small beach so made an impromptu stop – joined later by Charlie and Saundra so we had a fun afternoon bobbing session. Back to Morphie we sat in the dark in the cockpit having dinner with a few more beers and some tunes.

Wednesday morning we were awoken early by the wind and the rain howling….but it calmed down later.    I sorted out photos and videos while Richard snorkelled the anchor again.   We went ashore at one and met Charlie and Saundra at the dinghy dock – we picked up our taxi (which was running on island time) and headed down the coast.    We arrived at South West Beach but, unfortunately Richard’s place wasn’t open, so we went here instead.  

Never mind…we had a shrimp (and conch for Charlie and Saundra) starter…and a few beers before we went bobbing.   Later on we spotted people at Richard’s Place – which sits out on the point between the two half-moon bays – and wandered back down.   We had a few more beers and even a cocktail to celebrate Saundra’s birthday before heading back to the taxi.  Well…he wasn’t there….  We called him and, finally, almost an hour late he picked us up.

Back to Morphie who was silhouetted by a lovely sunset again.  

This morning (Thursday) we got up at a reasonable time and headed in to see Mr Bush.  We have decided to leave Providencia on Saturday morning.  This is about a 300 mile passage to Panama and we are aiming for a Monday lunchtime arrival at Shelter Bay Marina.  This is where we will stage in preparation for our Canal transit. 

So we need to get the paperwork in order.   First part done – we have to return with our passports tomorrow (Friday) – then we did some more shopping (including another hardware store!) and came back to Morphie with supplies.

The wind conditions look perfect although the forecast two to three metre swells might be a bit bothersome.   Never mind…we can’t have it all!   It’s a shame that we won’t get a chance to visit San Andres, Providencia’s touristy sister to the south of us, but time is getting away and we need to get to Panama.   We have emailed Shelter Bay for a reservation but nothing heard yet – may have to chase them up tomorrow.  Near the marina there really isn’t anywhere to anchor so I want to make sure we have a slot – although with 36 World Arc boats leaving imminently they should have a vacancy right now!  

Bye for now

Jan

Roatan to Providencia

Saturday morning we were in bed when Richard spotted a little hand come through the open hatch…and then Cheeky peered in.   Richard shouted at him and quickly shut the hatch – and we went on deck to find both Cheeky and Lucy sitting on the solar panels. 

Cheeky decided to steal our citronella candle, tasted it, didn’t like it and threw it back onto the coach roof.   We needed to try and get them off the boat as I had loads of washing hanging up and I had visions of underwear and pegs getting scattered down the dock.  But by now Cheeky had spotted me and came in for a cuddle….and Lucy jumped off the rigging into the trees alongside us.    Finally…after bribery of some cereal bars…they left us to create havoc on the other boats. 

By the time I had got dressed most of the dock were up and Cheeky had stolen three cans of soda from Island Sol;  had managed to open the stern shower tap on Evenglow to drain their fresh water tank;  had stolen a water bottle from another boat;  and had played on the canvas under the solar panels on another.   He is such a naughty boy LOL.     

Saturday afternoon we were finally ready to go to sea – Richard having installed the new halyard – so we took ourselves off to the beach for a final bobbing session before heading to the cruisers tiki hut to say goodbye and kept the bar open late again with John and Deb (Orion 1) and Paul and Mary (Genesis) ie the British and Canadian contingent plus Debbie, Steve and boat dog Libby of course.   We had a great last night.

Sunday morning by 8.40am we had said our goodbyes and slipped away from Fantasy Island, Roatan.   We motored in light airs towards Guanaja and the seas were totally flat….so made very good time.   Richard decided to try fishing and did hook one but he got off – never mind.  By 2pm we running alongside the island and by 3.30 pm we were on the hook having completed a short passage of only 36 miles.   

Guanaja is the third of the Bay Islands of Honduras so our Zarpe (exit clearance) from Roatan covers us to be here – no need for more officialdom at this stage.  Guanaja looks really pretty from the anchorage and it is a shame that we didn’t get a chance to explore this island.   I’m totally fascinated by the Villa on Dunbar Rock behind us!

Later on Island Sol pulled in behind us and we collected Saundra and Charlie and took them over to Manatis for dinner.   At the last minute John, their guest, decided to remain on board alone.   We also met up with Simon and Samantha from Signora (Jersey, UK) who were going to be travelling with us.   Both Island Sol and Signora are bigger boats than us so we are the slowest of the group and have based all our calculations on five knots SOG (speed over the ground) which, of course, may vary as we go along according to conditions and currents against us.   The key thing to note in a convoy is that it travels at the speed of the smallest boat which all crews accepted.    

The pilot book for this area gives two routes – one recommended and another for emergencies only (the one that runs along the coast)  – but by the time we had arrived in Guanaja another pirate attack had been reported. 

 

The level of theft and violence had escalated and these attacks were much further out than before – 20 miles away from the Gorda Cay.   The pirates are actually the local fishermen who fish and live on their boats in these shallow waters.  There are no coastguard patrols in this area so the chances of them being caught are very slim…and travelling yachts are easy pickings.   So we revisited our route and decided to go the very long way round, which added another day to our passage, but meant we only had 50 miles crossing the shallow banks towards Providencia and it took us, at the closest point, 40 miles away from the known hot spots.   

All happy with the plan we returned to our respective boats for an early night and a beautiful Guanaja sunset.

Monday morning we got up early and started secreting our valuables around the boat – if we do get boarded we are not going to make it easy for them to find everything!    The wind is howling at this point and it looks like we could have a feisty sail but at least it is coming from the right direction. As agreed at 9.15am we all picked up anchor and headed out.  Once we were clear of the shallow water we pulled out the sails deciding on a double reefed main and genoa in the 27 knot breeze.    We moved into deep water and the seas were pretty big – 8-10 feet – and we recorded gusts above 30 knots.   So we were moving pretty swiftly along at 7 knots with 10 knots recorded when we surfed down waves.  The waves were coming behind us onto our port quarter (back left-hand side) and were breaking….they crashed over us a few times.    All very exhilarating and, although it kept us on our toes, we were enjoying ourselves.   The group managed to keep together and all boats were within one mile of each other – which we were pretty pleased with.  

By 5pm we had dinner and watched our first sunset at sea.   

As the conditions continued to be brisk we decided to reef down further for the night – putting away the genoa and pulled out the staysail instead.    Island Sol did the same.    We put the engine on to charge the batteries and Island Sol were clearly doing the same as they are pulling away from us rapidly.   I radioed them to ask them to slow down and was told, by John, to put my engine revs up higher.   Well…not an option…I’m not planning to motor sail the whole damn night and what about conserving fuel for the low wind days we are expecting?!?    Pretty fed up I had to call Richard back up into the cockpit to help me put the staysail away and pull out the genoa again so that I could keep up.   I managed, eventually, to catch up – with Signora matching me bringing up the group from the rear.  I felt slightly nervous with the genoa out on my own, despite it being heavily reefed, as gusts were still coming at us in the 30s.   Richard took over later and by 11.00 pm we were leading the pack….so he slowed down to keep the group together.  

By 1am on Tuesday morning the seas were easing and the winds had dropped to 15-20 knots but there were still big gusts.  Again we had fallen behind so we shook out a reef in the genoa and increased our boat speed.   By 3am we were in the lead again!     Quite a dark night and the moon didn’t rise until 3.20 am.    But by 8am we had fallen behind again and, as the latest weather download said the wind was dropping, we pulled out full sails in a reducing wind. 

By now it was 12-15 knots and we were chasing down Island Sol half a mile ahead of us.   At 10am we had a wind shift in our favour and by 11 am we had caught Island Sol again.  The wind was now steady at 12 knots and we were not getting any gusts either.   The seas continued to flatten and by 2pm we were all parallel with half a mile separating all three boats with Morphie in the centre. 

At 4pm we started our engine again to charge batteries and started to run back towards the rhumb line.  

As we were motoring towards Signora we had a wonderful visit from about 50 dolphins which played on our bow for about half an hour.   Magical, just plain magical.

By 5pm the winds had swung to the north east and it was difficult to hold our course so we increased our revs to 1800rpm and were motor sailing away from the rhumb line again.  Island Sol pulled away strongly and we couldn’t catch them – again I asked him to slow down and again John refused.    Grr……   So we continued motor sailing hard…to keep above the rhumb line and eventually, at 11pm we caught up with Island Sol.   Definitely a shift change issue here…Charlie and Saundra maintain contact with us…John clearly couldn’t give a damn.  What he doesn’t appear to realise is that if a suspicious vessel approaches him for every mile he is away from us it is going to take us 12-15 minutes to get to him to offer assistance. 

By 1am on Wednesday morning we were all together again and were sailing close to the rhumb line.   At 3am there were lights to the starboard ahead of Island Sol and alongside them.   So we all decided to run dark and moved to our own working channel for radio communications, although we kept on our AIS so that big ships could see us and we could keep tabs on each other’s position.  

At 4am the lights had gone away – they were big shrimp boats – and the wind shifted to the east.  This was earlier than forecast and was now right on the nose.  We dropped all our sails and motored straight into the waves, wind and current at 2000rpm to maintain our agreed five knots SOG.  

By 9am the wind had switched again and so we had all three sails up fully in 10 knots of breeze.   At 10am Island Sol were coming up fast from behind us…and we watched as they got closer…and we had to drop 15 degrees off the wind to let him pass. John was sitting on the rail taking a video of us.  Nice thought but, for god’s sake, what about the rule of the road that says the overtaking vessel should keep clear!!!!   That man’s a menace.    

By 11am we were constantly playing wind angles to keep moving in the light airs and, by now, we had moved back in front of the pack.    We came off the wind slightly and picked up speed to find, at 12 noon, we had a huge shrimp boat moving around ahead of us with his nets deployed.  We furled our genoa and sat and waited for his position to become clearer.  By 1pm we were all back sailing with full main and genoa and Island Sol are coming up very fast again from behind…this time they overtook us very closely to starboard and then turned straight across our bow.   We were so surprised we didn’t even say anything on the radio – and, anyway, the rules prohibit the use of profanity over the airwaves LOL.

Island Sol continued to pull ahead almost two miles ahead of us and we couldn’t catch them – Signora continued to maintain contact with us.  Charlie came on the radio at 3pm and said that they wanted to go faster across the banks and were going to maintain 6+ knots SOG.   So I asked if that meant they were leaving us behind and abandoning us.    Yes was the answer.  I just said ‘Thanks for that Charlie’ and returned to Ch.16.  Both of us were stunned, used some working-class language, and I was very upset – we had worked hard to maintain contact with them – and now, at the most critical part of the passage getting close to the danger zone, they were going to leave us to it because they could run faster.   Signora, in the meantime, confirmed that they would remain with us so that made me feel a bit better as we weren’t going to be going it totally alone and I knew that our calculations were going to work with getting onto the banks at dark and leaving before sunrise.

Then, a little while later, Charlie came back on the radio and said that they were going to stick to our agreement and wait for us after all.   Fine, thank you.  That told us everything we needed to know – John was influencing their better judgment.  No words to describe my feelings towards this obnoxious man.     Although we had now agreed to stay together Island Sol remained two miles ahead of us – and then they reported a surveying vessel towing a long line of floats to port.  So we got on with avoiding that…   Then Island Sol reported a fishing boat to starboard and they decided to slow down so that Signora and we could catch up with them.    How kind.

We moved into a close formation with us in the lead and started motor sailing to maintain our agreed 5 knots SOG – keeping a constant RPM and taking any lift from the wind we could get to speed up.  Moving along and, at the critical waypoint which is the closest to the danger zone, Island Sol reported a transmission problem.  So Signora and ourselves reduced speed dramatically and just hung around waiting for them to resolve their problem.  They had propped their propeller and were dragging a line.    They did what they could and, after 45 minutes of sitting around like nervous ducks awaiting the hunters, we all took off again in formation.    

At 2am on Thursday morning we all made a 20 degree change to port to return to the rhumb line and to avoid a shrimp boat to starboard.   By 3am we were back on the line and were experiencing some currents against us.   Come 4am (shift change I wonder?!?) Island Sol had gone walkabout again…

Before a lovely sunrise at 6am we were off the banks as planned despite the delay and we were motoring along with a main and staysail with only six knots of breeze.   It was flat calm out there and the wind had shifted towards its normal easterly trades so we were looking forward to a great day of sailing ahead without having to keep the formation now we had passed through the danger zone.  

By 9 am we were still chasing the wind around to try and keep our sails full.   Signora headed above the rhumb line as they were considering continuing directly to Panama rather than coming with us to Providencia.   Island Sol remained below us.   Suddenly, at 10am the winds filled in and we had 11 knots of breeze from the right direction and relatively flat seas.  Woo hoo!!!  Then, of course, the winds shifted to the SE but we could still sail.  We were going along nicely so Richard decided to fish again…    Within an hour he had caught his first mahi of the season….and within another hour the fish was filleted and we had lots of fresh fish in the freezer.     Richard was very happy indeed (and yes, he does sail in his underpants!).    

And to cap off the day another sunset.

Come 7pm the winds had dropped but we continued to sail along nicely although our speed had dropped to 4kts SOG we were unconcerned as we wanted to enter Providencia in daylight.   By 9pm we were catching Island Sol again and we switched on the engine to give our batteries an initial burst before running the generator on the rail – which is what we will do in the Pacific later in the year.    While I was having a snooze down below Richard surprised me by installing my new helm seat – so I got comfy straight away!   Fantastic, it made such a difference, and my back will be eternally grateful LOL.  Here’s a picture of me enjoying it the following morning.

In the meantime we are creaming Island Sol and they are dropping further and further behind us.    Signora are off to our port side by almost six miles and are debating their next move – so we downloaded the weather for them and gave them an update over the radio.  Apart from 3m swells forecast the weather was favourable so we said goodbye as they changed course directly to Panama.   At 11pm Island Sol woke up and started to pull back very quickly for the wind conditions – we think they must have been motor sailing again.  

At 1am on Friday morning the seas had picked up and we had slowed down again.  It was quite rolly so we continued to sail the best course for comfort rather than for speed.   At 5am we had Land Ho! and by 6am we were approaching Providencia which looked quite foreboding in the rainy squalls. 

Earlier in the morning I had radioed Signora to give them an updated weather report but they were, by now, out of range.  And I got told off on the radio by John for waking up his crew!!!  Well, turn the bloody thing down or off then. 

By 8.30 am we were on the hook at anchor having completed our passage of 444 miles in an average speed of 4.72 knots SOG – so despite wind shifts and low wind days; adverse currents; technical delays etc our detailed navigation planning had been pretty damn good.   We were very pleased with our performance on this passage and both felt we could have continued on. 

Oh yes…and Richard renamed the boats during one of his watches…as at times it felt like we were flying in formation.  So in honour of that terrible movie Top Gun we became Top Mum to reflect our head of the formation position as we crossed the banks.   Signora became Ice Man for his cool and calm approach to everything during the passage.   And, for obvious reasons, Island Sol became Maverick!

The anchorage here in Providencia is absolutely lovely and we are looking forward to staying here for a short while to explore.   We contacted Mr Bush – the required ship’s agent – who arranged to meet us and Island Sol at his office for clearance procedures.   We recovered all our belongings from their hidey holes and got ourselves cleaned up and sorted out before running ashore.  

We went to Mr Bush’s agency and did the paperwork with the customs and immigration officials that were there waiting for us.   We have since realised that there is an actual one hour time difference and that we were late!   Oops…note to self…next time ask the local time on arrival.

We had to hand over our passports and return later so we decided to go in search of a cold beer and a restaurant having now got some drinking vouchers from the ATM.  We wandered for a while but didn’t find anything much so returned to a local place that was rammed.  We had an OK lunch and some cold beers but John couldn’t keep his big mouth shut and decided to berate me again for using the radio in the early hours and for refusing to increase my engine speed to catch up.   Well…I flipped…and said what about him wanting to leave us on the banks?   He told me to eat s**t!!!   This from an educated man who was a management consultant in his previous life….   I didn’t respond to the insult as Saundra had left the table and restaurant in tears and I went to find her.  Richard was furious with me for rising to the bait.   I caught up with Saundra and we had a long chat and hugged.  This ignorant man is not going to ruin our friendship.   So we returned to the restaurant and, despite my real desire to punch the guy, I made my peace with him and we shook on it.      

After lunch we went off to the little island linked to the mainland by a footbridge and had a few cold ones looking over the water.  

 

John behaved like nothing had happened so I tried to do the same even engaging him in conversation.  But, really, I can’t wait to see the back of him!!!!   I really hope that he does not continue with his poor behaviour as it will ruin Charlie and Saundra’s trip to the San Blas islands.

At just before 3pm Richard returned to Mr Bush’s agency to collect our passports and pay our clearance bill of US $180 – which Richard questioned.  This seemed a lot for only a few days but what can you do?!?    Feeling pretty jaded by now our next stop was the store to buy a SIM card for internet access as we had been offline for a long time.  Really appreciated the Iridium Go unit on this passage for downloading weather information and letting people know we were safe…  Mission accomplished we headed back to Morphie.   Back on board we had a few more cold beers before having an early night.

This morning, Saturday, and I’m blogging while Richard continues sleeping.  Not sure what we have planned today other that some boat and domestic duties.  The wind is howling and it’s raining but we’re happy to be here.

Bye for now

Jan

Our last week in Roatan (hopefully)…

Friday morning we carried on with boat jobs before having a bobbing session with Charlie and Saundra in the afternoon – check out the size of that hip flask!

Later on we headed out to movie night at the cruisers’ tiki hut.    The offering was one of our favourite films – Point Break (the original) – and we were looking forward to seeing it again.    Everyone decided to order a pizza delivery so we opted for fried chicken instead as we weren’t impressed with the pizza last time.  We had a good time and the increasing British contingent – aided by the Canadians – kept the beer fridges open late again LOL.    

Saturday morning and we had emptied our water tanks so we finally got round to un-pickling the water maker and changing out all the filters before starting to fill the tanks again.  This takes a while as we only make eight gallons an hour so we are on a water-making fest at the moment.    When this was done I got on with cooking as it was time to prepare some passage food for the trip ahead.    Richard kept himself busy with other boat jobs – this time it was to repair the lock on the anchor locker using his new rivet gun….and to install another 12V socket on the chart table….and to service the anchor windlass.      By the middle of the afternoon there were four meals ready for the freezer and we were both feeling a bit jaded.  So we had a quiet night on board.

Sunday morning and it was time for more laundry.    When that was done we had a nice leisurely brunch before heading over to the beach and had a bobbing session with Charlie, Saundra and John.    

We stayed later in the water than usual and caught this beautiful sunset through the trees….and then ran for cover back to Morphie as the mossies were out in huge numbers!!!     We had another quiet night on board.

Monday morning and Charlie was taking his skiff into town so we went with him.   He is crazy fast and we all got a bit soaked on the way through the channel towards town. 

We tied to the dinghy dock and walked up the mud hill to the main road before getting a cab to the mega mall.  We withdrew some drinking tokens and purchased a SIM card to give us limited internet on board.  We are fed up with the daily grind of walking to and from the hotel lobby, especially as we often fail to connect.  We also managed to get some new fishing lures – we need different colours here to attract those baby tuna and wahoo – and then headed back to Eldons supermarket.   Charlie did a quick shop while we wandered around. 

On the way back to the marina we got soaked again…and rinsed our clothes through with fresh water to get the salt out when back on board.   We had a relaxing few hours before getting ready to go out.   A crowd of us headed over to Herbys, which is an American sports-themed bar and grill, in the Paradise Resort.    With all the TVs and sports paraphernalia it was difficult to believe that we were in Roatan.    Everybody chose different items off the menu and all the food was good…and they served supercold beer that was very refreshing.    Fun times.

Tuesday morning we made more water and checked the weather again.   The  window we have been watching remains favourable….woo hoo…..looks like we are finally going to get moving.    So we carry on doing pre-passage checks.   Charlie thought he had a problem with his mechanical shaft seal so Richard went off to help him while I continued cleaning and tidying.   After a bit of prodding and poking Charlie was satisfied that everything was OK and Richard caught up with me just before the shopping bus arrived.   We did our final provisioning and Morphie is now full…no more food needed!!!   

Later on we took ourselves off to the cruisers’ tiki hit and, as we walked along the beach, we came across Cheeky rummaging through the dustbins.    He saw us, immediately abandoned the bins and decided unusually to sit on Richard…..although did I get to stroke him.    He likes licking his head for some reason…and he stayed on his shoulders all the way round to the dive shop…when the temptation to break into the equipment room was too strong to remain with us.  We tried to get him to come back out but all we could hear were cylinder tanks clunking and weights being thrown around as he was having fun LOL.  

We had another beautiful sunset along the way too.  

At the tiki hut we enjoyed a couple of cold ones before heading back to Morphie.   And heard the horrific story of one of our fellow cruisers who had been bitten by a moray eel while snorkelling….it did a lot of damage and she ended up in the hospital having 20 stitches.  She was very lucky not to lose a couple of fingers.  

Wednesday morning and the weather window continued to look good so we needed to get our paperwork in order.   We ordered a taxi and took off with the others to the immigration office.   Along the way Charlie wanted to rent a 4×4 so that they could further explore the island – much of which is dirt roads – and our taxi driver found one for them straight away.   So Charlie and John followed our taxi with the rented truck while Saundra remained with us.    This was a lucky break as, when we got to immigration, I realised that I’d left the passports back on the boat.  Seriously????    Yep….had ben OCD about checking the paperwork before we left:  copies of passports;  copies of boat registration;  copies of photos of boat;   digital images of boat;  cruising permit – that I’d missed picking up the originals.    As you can imagine Richard was not a happy bunny.    But because Island Sol had hired the truck they could continue on while we returned to Fantasy Island so we didn’t disrupt their day.   Finally…back to immigration with passports in hand…and we get checked out with five days to depart.

Next stop was customs – to purchase the Zarpe form – and then the port captain.  Glad we had a taxi driver to show us where it was…would never have found it on our own.   Such a depressing office but look at the view from behind the street.    

We gave the captain our documents and emailed him the digital images there and then.   We were told Thursday night or Friday morning that our Zarpe would be ready.   We knew that this was a two day process so weren’t surprised.

On the way back we asked the driver to stop at the beer distribution place as there had been no beer at the supermarket the day before.   Result…got three slabs….and at only L17 a can (28 to the pound)…that’s not a bad deal.  

By the time we got back to Morphie it was lunchtime so I prepared the BBQ meal for later – stuffed peppers and chicken kebabs.    All sorted we chilled for a little while before heading over to the tiki hut.   We enjoyed our walk along the beach at dusk and meeting the local wildlife….and I had my Cheeky fix for the day.  

When we got there the grill was full so we had to wait for a while to cook but that was fine as we watched the sun go down.    We had another lovely social evening with Diane entertaining us on the guitar.  

Thursday morning and Charlie was heading to the Port Captain’s office as he had heard that his Zarpe was ready….so we tagged along in the truck.    Ours was too so we went back to immigration to give them a copy and yay, sorted, we are free to go.   They did spell our boat name wrong – but we not going to revisit this process to get that sorted.  I’m sure that our next destination won’t care!  

Back to Morphie I got busy in the galley as we were having island Sol over in the evening for a curry night.   Both John and Charlie are great cooks/chefs so didn’t want to disappoint.    I cooked a full-blown Indian meal with poppadums, sauces and chutneys, followed by three different curries, rice and naan.    While I was doing this Richard was sorting out a new halyard – we have an opening in the mast for a spinnaker halyard (which we don’t need) – so we have decided to pull another halyard through as a safety line for mast climbing or even a spare if one of our existing halyards fails.  This will give us spares for both our genoa and our main.   We were amazed to find a cruising boat willing to sell us a brand new unused one so we bit his hand off and purchased it.

Thursday night and the gang turned up after their day out exploring.    They piled into the food and absolutely loved it!   We loved the ice cream desert that they bought for us too.   Fun times.

Friday morning and I’m blogging while Richard is doing other boat jobs.     Listening to the weather guru this morning on the SSB we heard that there had been another pirate attack on a yacht near the Nicaragua banks…no details available yet although it sounded like the crew were OK.   We will be giving this area a very wide berth staying offshore by at least 30 miles and travelling in company with two other boats so there is some safety in numbers.    We need to discuss our strategy with the other boats but I think we’ll definitely get to our closest point to this troubled area during the night and may well run dark…and we’ll use a dedicated radio channel rather than hail each other on Ch16 (although we will obviously do a dual watch) in case the vagabonds are listening in.  

The plan is to leave Roatan on Sunday and head over to Guanaja.    This is a day sail away.   Then Monday lunchtime we’ll head off on the three day passage to Providencia.    The weather is looking really good as we are expecting north west to north winds throughout the passage before they clock back to the east….looks like winds could be brisk for Monday but then die down…so may be some motoring at the end but at least we have a sailing angle all the way.

Tonight we are heading to the tiki hut for movie night – the offering is Deep Water Horizon – which we’re looking forward to seeing.   No cooking for me today – curry leftovers are on the menu LOL.    

Tomorrow, Saturday, and I’m hoping that we can spend more time on the beach before we leave here.   Bye for now

Jan

Waiting on weather in Roatan

Friday night we stayed home and treated ourselves to a roast beef dinner with lots of vegetables and Yorkshire puddings.    Yum….. 

Saturday morning we were up early and headed over to the dive dock.   We got loaded up and were under way just before nine.   The first dive of the day was Mary’s Place which is our favourite spot here in Roatan.    Canyons and caverns and some great coral but the new dive leader got the route wrong so we didn’t visit the deepest cut and there were even less fish than last summer.   Felt quite disappointed but loved being back in the water.

The second dive of the day was Gold Chain and this was a wall dive. Nice topography again although still disappointed by the lack of fish – but this was more than offset by our encounter with a really friendly turtle who posed for photographs on his way to the surface.  We also came across a giant crab living under an overhang.     Saundra and I still had loads of air left but Richard had had enough so we all surfaced together.

In the afternoon we chilled out before heading to the Tiki hut for a pizza delivery.  We stopped at the hotel reception for our daily internet fix on the way and I had another Cheeky monkey cuddle.   The pizza was pretty tasty but the toppings could definitely have been more generous.    Never mind, no cooking for me tonight, so I’m not complaining.

During the night and into the early hours of Sunday the wind picked up and the rain was coming down hard.   We got up – around six – to take down our canopy as it could get torn in the strong gusts.   While we were doing this we looked up and OMG the Russians are coming!!!!   They are dragging their two anchors as well as the mooring and were headed straight at the trawler in front of us on the dock.   We got the air horn out and, eventually, the Russians come up and are flapping around like looneys.   At one point the mother is dragging the baby around with her on the slippery dock attached to her boob while moving things around…..not sure what the hell she was thinking off.   Would have thought having the babies safely tucked down below would be better?!?  We had woken the whole dock and people were on the trawler physically fending them off….  

It was a very close call before they finally got their engine running and moved forward.   The Russians were screaming for help on the radio and Steve, the dockmaster, called for a tow.    A powerful motorboat came out to assist….but the Russians sent them away saying they were fine.   Really???!!!    Eventually they grounded just in front of the dock so we tied them to a tree so they couldn’t drift any further.    At least there they were no longer a danger to other boats or a navigational hazard.    We all watched for quite a while to make sure they were safe and even Debbie and Libby came by in their best wet weather gear LOL.  

But in the meantime the Russians had requested urgent assistance again and, on being told it would cost them $150, they declined.    Words cannot describe their stupidity – you would have thought the safety of their children might be more important than a few quid?!?   Steve would not sanction any assistance from us either as the conditions were really rough and our dinghies would be ineffectual against their hulking steel boat – their only option was to pay for a tow.   By around noon we had relaxed – they were clearly safe where they had ended up.

In the afternoon we were sat in the cockpit and Charlie came by to talk about our proposed departure.   Island Sol is going to be travelling in company with us for the next few islands which is great, particularly as we are going to be transiting some dodgy areas on the way to Panama.    We looked together at the weather and spotted a potential window for next week……we drank rum and beers….and that is where we stayed for the rest of the day and evening.    As it was Sunday and we had fresh veggies left over we had another roast dinner – this time chicken with sage and onion stuffing…..    It was the perfect antidote to a long rainy day.

Monday morning early and I spotted the Russian boat was underway…. we quickly got dressed and went to watch just in case they needed help untying from the tree.    They managed to get themselves off the bottom, cast themselves adrift, and headed out…only to go the wrong side of the channel marker and run aground on the reef.   They reversed hard and got themselves off – not sure how much damage they sustained – and finally left.    They popped round the corner and headed into the main anchorage and dropped their hook.   Hopefully they are secure this time.

Tuesday we spent a few hours in the hotel reception online before heading over to the cruisers tiki hut for the supermarket bus having a chat with Lucy the monkey while we waited.   

We carried on topping up our supplies – particularly canned goods – and trudged back to the boat heavily laden down with goodies.   Tuesday night we went for sundowners at the Tiki hut and ended up staying quite a bit later than planned but it was a fun night.

Wednesday and Happy Birthday to me!   Thanks everyone for your messages, cards and gifts – it really means a lot to me being so far away from home.    

We wandered across the bridge – admiring the view of Morphie on the dock now that the Russian boat no longer marred the view – and had a chat with Cheeky along the way.    Was surprised to see him on the bridge as I didn’t think he ventured that far away from the easy pickings of the restaurant buffet LOL.

We were met by Miguel our taxi driver – and headed off to West End.  This is the tourist end of the island where the sleepy waterfront is full of restaurants, bars and shops.   It was quiet – and slightly gloomy when we arrived – so we wandered from one end to the other checking out the stores along the way. 

We did manage to get two new hats and a t-shirt for Richard.   It started to get really busy so we headed to a restaurant that sat over the water and just enjoyed watching the comings and goings of boats coming into the anchorage;  the tourist water taxis;  the dive boats;  the snorkelling day trip boats etc etc.   We treated ourselves to fish and chips and a few cold beers….was lovely.

The cruise ship passengers were around by now and, probably because this is their main destination on Roatan, everything was priced in US dollars – the official currency here is the Honduran Lempira.    We had to get everyone to calculate the price for us that we could pay for our purchases and we know that we got ripped off by the exchange rate they used in the shops.   Certainly we would have used dollars too if we had known.   Back to the roundabout to await Miguel’s return we sat in a bar overlooking the water / street and watched all the tourists being herded like sheep onto their respective buses before being taken away.

On the one hour drive back we admired the colourful and varied shop displays along the route and the narrow roads that go up and down over the hills.    We took a different way back and actually went past the cruise ships sitting at anchor waiting for their passengers to return.   From the street, at water level, they are absolutely huge!

Back to Fantasy Island – via Ace Hardware – Richard’s favourite shop.  Today’s purchase was a rivet gun which we realised was missing from our tools inventory on board.    Back on the dock, having said hi to this friendly peacock, we met up with Charlie, Saundra and John for a few hours bobbing in the sea – which was great fun – and they sang Happy Birthday to me.  

Later on we headed to the Tiki hut for BBQ night.  I had some ribs prepared which we took with us and, despite having eaten a large lunch, we did tuck in and enjoy them.  There were about 40 people there and they all sang Happy Birthday to me.  Then one of the cruisers started playing and singing and we all made requests and sang along.    Was a great birthday! 

This morning, Thursday, and Richard has gone off to visit the vegetable truck and the hotel reception for his internet fix while I’m blogging.   We are certainly not planning on being sociable tonight after the excesses of yesterday LOL.

Oh yes…and that weather window…has closed right down.   Damn!    We want to get moving but this is a difficult passage straight into the wind and waves when the trades blow from the east… so we really just have to wait for lighter airs than the current forecast.  Right now the weather guru, and our satellite downloads agree, that there is no suitable window for the next week.   Feeling slightly frustrated as this will cut down our time when visiting other islands on the way to Panama but at least we are in a pretty spot.   It also means sadly we’ll probably have to miss out visiting the San Blas islands now.  

The marinas in Panama are going to be busy soon with the World ARC as they have 36 yachts scheduled to go through the canal the first week of February…..so we are now looking to arrive just as they depart and make our arrangements, using an agent to speed up the process.    We should be ready to go at the earliest opportunity so we are still hopeful of making a late February transit. 

Bye for now

Jan  

Fun in the sun in Roatan

Monday morning we caught a lift with Charlie into town in his hire care.  Richard got the propane gas bottle filled – it ran out when cooking dinner the night before – and we dropped him off at Ace Hardware while I went to Eldons the supermarket.   I’m not a great fan of shopping but I got quite excited by the selection on offer.  After the basic provisioning in Guatemala it felt like supermarket heaven LOL. 

Charlie returned to the marina to give back his car, taking our gas bottle back with him, thanks it was much appreciated.   I wandered the aisles until Richard caught up with me and we did a big shop.  Eventually, a few hours later and significantly poorer, we caught a taxi back to Morphie.   Then the hard work started getting everything stowed away.   Richard got on with the installation of a sea-water wash down in the anchor locker.

Later on we took ourselves off to the beach to make the most of the sun and enjoyed bobbing in the crystal clear water.  Check out this beautiful place….stunning location, just a shame that the hotel is a bit shabby now.   While we were in the water there were further monkey shenanigans on the beach with Lucy terrorising the tourists….no pictures I’m afraid…but I did get a cuddle when I walked up the beach before she went back to stealing drinks!

Monday evening we went to the cruisers’ tiki hut and enjoyed a spectacular sunset….and had a few beers with the gang….was a lovely day. 

Tuesday morning and we compiled a list of everything we had forgotten.  So excited the day before by things like naan bread, salt beef and baked beans we forgot basics like eggs and soft drinks LOL.     At lunchtime we headed to the beach with Charlie and Saundra for a bobbing session and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves in the sun and surf chatting to visiting cruise ship passengers. 

At three we took the cruisers’ courtesy shopping bus to Eldons for another provisioning run.   We managed to get everything on the list and headed back to the bus.   It was chaotic and one of my bags got turned over and things fell out….at the end I think I lost a bag of crisps.   Debbie (who organised this) was frazzled by getting the Russians off the bus.

So…the Russians….   There is a family living on a decrepit boat on a marina mooring – a pre-existing arrangement going back years and the only mooring in the resort.    It is quite close to us as we sit tied alongside the dock.   

The boat has been unoccupied for some time but recently the family returned and moved back on board.  There are two babies – one about three years old and one about twelve months.   The mother is dropped off every morning by her husband and she sits on the beach with the kids while he remains on board fixing the boat.   The kids run around naked and they are wild and not potty trained as they just go wherever they squat.  Including in the hotel reception!    Ewwww…..   The husband only picks her up in the evening when she screams across the water from the dock to him – usually just by the side of Morphie.   The shopping run was a nightmare – she had two kids, one can of petrol and two boxes of groceries – while he stayed on the boat.  Despite the usual screaming and shouting the husband left her on the dock until he was ready to collect her a few hours later.   What an existence!!!

Tuesday afternoon Richard finished the sea water wash down installation – woo hoo!   No more manual cleaning the gunk off the anchor chain with endless buckets of water.   Great job.    Later in the afternoon we wandered to the tiki hut for a couple of beers before returning to Morphie via the hotel lobby to get our daily internet fix.

Wednesday morning and I made some potato salad in preparation for BBQ night – the ribs were already marinated and cooked so just needed to be put on the grill later.   I did some laundry while Richard cleaned up Morphie’s topsides which were covered in a layer of pine needles from the trees.   I’m not a fan of hand washing – particularly when we are in a marina so not getting such a good breeze – but the local laundry is no longer being recommended and the nearest one is now in the shopping mall in town.  A long walk away or an expensive taxi – so I’ve decided to do a little bit each day – to get through the huge pile we seem to have accumulated since we left NanaJuana.  

We then took ourselves off to meet Charlie, Saundra and John and headed over the footbridge to the security gate.   We were met by Lester – a local tour guide we had chatted to on the beach the day before – and two vehicles.  

We took off across the island to Punta Gorda… a sleepy fishing village where we can buy fresh fish which is actually the reason for the trip.  

We were taken to the Perla restaurant to sample some local food.  On arrival we were not particularly impressed…but we were led through to the back across some massive mangrove roots and onto a covered dock over the sea looking out onto the reef system…and it was simply lovely.   I really loved watching the local kids having fun in the sea too.   

There were some local guys who decided to share their root alcohol shots…and were quite engaging, if not a little drunk.   We were served a huge fish lunch and thoroughly enjoyed it – Richard had lobster and I had shrimp – and we all shared some fish.  We left the conch to Charlie and Saundra to sample LOL.  

It was a lovely spot and a nice way to spend a few hours.   Sadly the only fresh fish available to purchase was parrot fish – which we don’t eat – so we left empty-handed.   But it had certainly been a fun experience which we all thoroughly enjoyed.

We got back and had a snooze before heading off to BBQ night.  Both of us were still full from lunch so we decided not to bother with food and just had a few beers instead.  We socialised with the other cruisers before returning to Morphie via the hotel lobby.  We couldn’t get online though so we ended up having a relatively early night.

Thursday morning and we listened to the daily weather report from Chris Parker on the SSB.   We are looking for a weather window to move east to Guanaja and then onward around the corner of Honduras and Nicaragua and southwards towards the island of Providencia (which actually belongs to Colombia) making our way towards Panama.   Ideally we are really looking to hitch a ride on the back of a norther to get the best sailing angle.   It is a number of days at sea as we have to take a very long route round due to vagabonds in the area – so we are looking for a reasonable gap.   Right now there is a norther coming this weekend but the forecast is very strong with winds potentially sustained at 35 knots (with gusts to 45) so think we’ll pass on this opportunity and keep watching for a future window.  Check out the colours on the grib file and this only shows it as it builds in the area.  Time for boats to look for shelter….and a number of them have already arrived here on the south side of Roatan.

At noon – having done more washing – I headed to the tiki hut to visit the vegetable truck.   Richard stayed behind to service the generator.

Later on we met up with Charlie and Saundra and headed out in their tender to the outer reef.  Fantasy Island looks pretty in the sun today.  

We dropped into the shallow water expecting lots of lobsters but found that a summer storm had moved the sand around and lots of the overhangs had been filled in.   But we spotted some lovely little critters including this huge crab in his shell.    And Saundra had the find of the day with a bill fish! 

Moving on we came through the cut and got ready to get back in the water again. 

This time we dropped on top of a wreck that was about 90 foot below us, swam across the main channel, and meandered along the reef wall.    The snorkelling was more interesting here with nice varied coral heads and looking down the wall into the depths below. 

After all that exercise Charlie drove us to the beach and we had a bobbing session to round off the afternoon.  It had been a good fun day with lots of laughs.   Later on we headed to the reception for internet and then went to the tiki hut and spoke to the English couple who had been rescued earlier that morning.  They had broken their transmission and had been carried this way by the current despite the lack of wind.   Many of the marina guests went out in their dinghies to raft up and propel them through the narrow dog leg entrance in the reef and into a marina slip.  They were very happy to be here…  

This morning, Friday, there was no net being broadcast on the radio, which made us wonder what had happened.   Well….a boat from the anchorage had left….and they had hit the reef on the way out.   So there was another rescue mission underway to get them off the reef and bring them into the marina.   They need to get their boat hauled out here now to check for damage.  Bet that ruined their day!  

In the meantime I’ve done another load of washing and Richard has finished with the generator.  He has disconnected the oil switch as this meant the generator cut out when we tried to use it at sea when we heeled over.   We need this operational for the Pacific to keep up with our power consumption without running the engine and he’s sussed out how to do it!  Obviously we’ll have to watch the oil level every time we use the generator in future but, hey, we can now use it underway.  So another woo hoo.   Well done again Richard.   

Today we are planning a lazy day.  As the weather is due to turn on Sunday we may have more beach time and then have a quiet night on board.   As we have loads of vegetables we are planning a roast.   Might even get carried away and make Yorkshire puddings….  We are going diving tomorrow morning so looking forward to that.

Oh yes…update on the Russians.   For some mad reason, they moved the fixed mooring line from their stern to the bow so, to all intents and purposes, they were now behaving like an anchored vessel (they do actually have bow anchors down too) and are swinging in the wind.   There is not enough room for that without putting boats on the dock at risk.  We reported it to Steve and Debbie and, after they made sure the boat was properly secured once again, they were given their marching orders.    This situation was clearly the final straw that broke the camel’s back for them.  

Sadly I have to tell you that our first GoPro video was a disappointment due to operator error….so we need to go back to the manual and try again.  I think we may have been a little ambitious first time out with all the different video options.   Never mind, I’m sure we’ll get the hang of it before long.

Bye for now

Jan

Shakedown cruise to Roatan

Monday (Boxing Day) we paid our electricity bill, topped up our water tanks, and disconnected everything electrical we had charged as we were leaving shore power behind, and slipped away around noon from NanaJuana for the trip down the Rio Dulce to Cayo Quemodo.   We thoroughly enjoyed the moody jungle and mountain scenery before we pulled into the bay and anchored.   Boy it felt good to be back on the hook, even in the rain!

We went to drop off our sails at Toms and took a few photos of Morphie on the way back.  Our next destination was Utila, one of the Bay Islands of Honduras, and they require boat identification photographs for the check in process.  So while Richard busied himself pulling all our ropes through the new blocks in preparation for the return of the sail, I turned the photos into an A5 sheet complete with boat stamp.   Hopefully the Port Captain will be suitably impressed with my handiwork LOL.   Oh yes…and I ended up buying a new bracelet…from the visiting local women who paddled over to Morphie.    And ended up giving the kids some biscuits too – who could resist those little faces?!?

Later on we dinked over to Mike’s new restaurant called – not sure why – Minnie Mike’s Juke Joint.   We had an early dinner and a few beers while we caught up with Texan Mike and his Guatemalan family.   We had visited them on our arrival in the Rio and were surprised by how much the smallest child had grown.  He loved proudly showing us his new shoes.   Was a fun evening.

Tuesday morning we were up early and headed over to Mikes as he had offered to give us a lift to Livingston to get our clearance documents sorted.   We headed off in his lancha with the family and we were in awe of the beautiful scenery through the gorge.  

We arrived at Livingston and docked at the Fishermen’s Jetty.   We climbed out and loved watching the huge numbers of pelicans hanging out waiting for fish handouts.  

We then headed to Servimar – which is Raul’s place – the ‘fixer’.   He had pre-prepared our exit papers for us and, within five minutes of handing over our passports, we had exit stamps and everything was sorted for us to leave….   Great service!   We have 24 hours to depart which is fine by us as we planned a dawn departure on Wednesday.

We did a bit of shopping enjoying the empty streets after the chaos of Fronteras – and stopped to watch the women doing their laundry in the communal washing area – before catching up with the internet over a coffee.   

We headed back to the pier and found Mike.  He was there drinking beer so we joined in…and waited for the women to return from their shopping spree.   Eventually we were all reunited and we headed back up the river again.

It was about two when we got back so we headed straight to Toms for a sit rep on our sails.   He had almost finished the staysail but had had to do more work than envisaged as the original sacrificial strip had not covered the luff tape so there was quite a bit of UV damage.    We returned to Morphie to wait   Come four we are getting slight anxious….so Richard went off in dink to see what was happening.    He returned with the staysail and said Tom was hopeful that he would finish the genoa later today.  So we hanked on the sail and just chilled out….but by six it was pitch black so Richard went off again only to report that Tom had had to give up due to lack of light.  Fair enough…will be done by eight in the morning….  

So we headed over to Mikes and gave the boys our present – an old-fashioned wooden spinning top.   Well….the adults loved it….although this might be something to do with the fact that they were pretty stoned.    Pure marijuana joints are constantly being passed around – and no one minded when we declined to participate.  Eventually the kids got to play with the top and they were fascinated by it with the baby dancing around it as it spun on the floor. 

Before we turned in for the night we did some passage scenarios and plotted our route.  Basically we have to go across the bar at Livingston by 8.30 latest to stand a chance of getting through the Belizean reef and out into open water before dark.    Hmmmm…that’s not possible even if the sails are ready for eight in the morning….so we decided to stay another day. 

Wednesday morning Richard went round to tell Tom the news….   Later on he came by with the finished sails and we waited for a break in the rain before hanking it on.   And, of course, the furler jammed at this point so we had to re-feed all the line through the drum…while we sailed around our anchor in the bay.   Finally it was all sorted and at last Morphie was fully dressed and ready to return to the sea.   Later on we downloaded the weather again and saw that the wind forecast had strengthened to 20 knots so it might be a bit lumpy out there…never mind….Utila here we come!

Later that evening we went to say our goodbyes to Mike, Suli and Tom.   We had really enjoyed our stay in Cayo Quemodo.

At six on Thursday morning we upped anchor and headed off down to Livingston through the gorge in the rain showers.   We actually made our first GoPro video whilst underway but we need to learn how to edit it before we share it….but hopefully we’ll have something for you soon.     

By 7.30 we arrived at Livingston just as the fishermen arrived back from their night at sea….there were birds everywhere following them, including some taking a break on the sea buoy.

We safely crossed the shallow sand bar and headed up towards Belize.   We were thoroughly enjoying being back on the water although the AIS decided to play up and the high wind and torrential rain squalls were a little tiresome.    Before sunset, as planned, we were through the Ranguana Pass and out into open ocean heading to Utila.   Then the radar gave us an error message….great…..    We managed to sort out both the AIS and radar before we had dinner and started our night shift patterns.

During my first watch – six to nine pm – the squalls worsened and the seas picked up.   We were reefed down….and then the wind shifted 120 degrees and hit us right on the nose.   I had to get Richard back up into the cockpit to help me deal with the genoa.   We decided to take it in and deploy the staysail instead as I’m able to tack without assistance so I started the ‘where is the wind coming from game’ responding to constant significant wind shifts by working my way above or below the rhumb line towards our destination.   It was slow going as the seas continued to build with some green water over the bow.

Richard’s shift – nine to twelve – brought more of the same except that he had cargo ships to play with and the AIS went on the blink again.  But in the pitch black he was easily able to spot them so he left me to sleep.   When I came back on watch at twelve I restarted the systems and got the AIS working again…all was good.     Within ten minutes of being back on watch I got hit by a 35 knot squall which didn’t cause any difficulties sailing Morphie but I did manage to get soaked by being in the wrong place in the cockpit at the wrong time!

Then bang…something broke…and bits flew into the cockpit.   I realised that the main sheet block had parted from the traveller so had to call Richard back up urgently to help lash the boom down.    Luckily I was able to find all the bits!    With the boom secured and the main now furled away we continued motoring towards our destination.   Richard went back to bed while I radioed the large container ship behind us to thank him for giving us safe passage…he had clearly slowed down and changed his course.

We swapped shifts again at three and Richard woke me early with shouts of ‘dollies’!   We were being welcomed to Utila by a couple of dolphins who had come to play…   Absolutely magical.   And, of course, don’t forget the beautiful stormy sunrise at sea…

Finally we worked our way around Utila, through the reef, and anchored in the bay by eight on Friday morning.   Our first passage of the season was 143 miles which we completed in 26 hours, not too bad considering the conditions and problems that we had faced.  We were able to fix the traveller block quite quickly – obviously this had just shaken loose over time – and definitely something to add to the pre-passage checks in future!

By ten we were cleaned up and ashore trying to check in.   But the immigration office and the port captain’s office were closed.   So we went shopping and returned about half an hour later.  

The Port Captain was surprised I had the photos ready and accepted them without question – phew!    First part done so we went to see the immigration lady who was struggling with non-working computers, power cuts and lack of internet, so was manually – and tediously – hand completing forms for the French family ahead of us.  Finally by the time she was ready to process us the power came back so we were done quite quickly.  We returned to the Port Captain who asked us to return at two pm.   Really?!?    We are both feeling tired from the passage and know that if we return to Morphie we won’t make it back….so decided to stay in town.   We had breakfast at Mango Tango and then headed off to Buccaneers for more coffee and internet.

By 1.30 pm both of us were completely jaded and feeling slightly unwell….so we returned to the Port Captain in hopeful mood.   Our papers had still not been processed by the mainland but he just created new ones for us and gave us our cruising permit.   Great – thanks!    Finally legal, and in the rain, we headed back to Morphie and went to bed.  And that is where we stayed only surfacing to turn on the anchor light LOL.

Saturday morning we were up early and picked up the anchor before seven…and the fan belt started slipping…so we dropped it again.    Richard was frustrated as he’d done an engine check the night before and all was well.    Nevertheless he quickly swapped it out and so we took off again leaving Utila behind in the pouring rain.   The wind was lighter than forecast so we motored….hopeful that it would fill in later…but, of course, it didn’t.  

Thankfully the clouds and rain went away and we motored across to Roatan enjoying the sun and the sights of the two huge cruise ships in town.  

By mid-afternoon we were tied into our slip in Fantasy Island and I wandered to the marina office to pay – and had a lovely reunion with Cheeky the monkey along the way.   I thoroughly enjoyed my kisses and cuddles to the amazement of the hotel guests who he had been swearing at from the trees LOL.

We went to the lobby to get online before we met up with Charlie and Saundra when they returned from a day out.   They invited us to join them for dinner on a friends’ boat for the evening.   We declined though as we had already eaten but hoped to see them on the beach for the fireworks later.

We cleaned ourselves up and headed over to the Cruisers tiki hit and caught up with Steve, Debbie and Libby the boat dog.   Libby seemed pretty pleased to see Richard again…  We spent a few hours there before heading off to the beach where we watched the dancing entertainment;  enjoyed the fire being lit;  before the fireworks went over the beach at midnight while quaffing complimentary champagne.   It was a lovely evening.   Happy New Year to you all.

This morning, Sunday, and Richard installed an anchor wash down pump and re-secured the traveller block with a special product we found in Utila.   We’re both now in the hotel reception getting internet….I think the rest of the day might be for rest!  

Bye for now

Jan