Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Colon, Panama to Rio Dulce, Guatemala

Tue. 10/30/12
 Brigitte was kind to get up and get me to the airport in time for the 0700 flight to Miami and frère Philippe again volunteered to watch the house.  A layover in Miami long enough for breakfast then on to Panama City.
 Steve arrived about an hour after I did.  We nixed the rental car I'd reserved on pretty solid grounds that it was raining, local drivers are nuts (based on our cab ride TO Tocumen airport months earlier) and, of course, the car cost.  Not that I wouldn't have gladly accepted the challenge, world class driver that I am, but I didn't argue too much since I'd be the one avoiding aggressive drivers in the rain while following a really rough map to Shelter Bay.  We negotiated a $100 not atypically insane taxi ride from the airport to Shelter Bay Marina which lies opposite Colon across Bahia Limón.
 Our driver was the fastest on the road.  This I admired and appreciated, despite narrowly missing a propane truck, being tired and anxious to finish traveling.
 We were sure we knew where our slip was, at least which dock it was on.  But, nope, not there.  In the office they swore it hadn’t been moved until Steve told them to check again (and again).  “Oh, si!  Eet eez on dock D now”; something about needing our slip for an ugly boat they didn’t want within eyeshot of the restaurant.

 Mold & mildew, a lot; the ceilings were mottled with it, fixtures and furniture had a thin layer of it and the cockpit cushions were black, nearly solid black, with it.  On deck, lines were greenish as were patches of the teak.  On your knees, boys, and break out the brushes.

Wed. 10/31/12
 Mold & mildew, less now.
 We tried to get on the marina's bus to Colon, but only the little van was running and it was full.  Got marina internet ($10/week) but it is slow except for odd hours when users are few.

Thu. 11/1/12
 Mold & mildew, a lot less, and we hired a local gal to give the salon, galley and heads a good once-over.

Fri. 11/2/12
 Mike and Bryan arrive.  “Hi guys, good’ta see ya.  On your knees, boys, and break out the brushes”.  I’m sure I offered them a beer first.

Sat. 11/3/12
 Boat scrub/swim in pool, repeat but under heavy rain.

Sun. 11/4/12
 Afternoon taxi to the depressing and reputedly dangerous city of Colon.  There were some bright spots:

Washington Hotel & Casino, Colon
 With eight arms we were able to carry plenty of provisions and traveling by cab knocked the lugging down to zero.
 We were caught by a container ship passing through the Gatun locks on our return trip.  I enjoyed the half hour wait watching the behemoth squeeze through.

Mon. 11/5/12
 Maintenance (engine hours 2473.7)...
 Fuel filters: drained the two primaries, replaced all three filters (all .02 micron, brown).  Note - the gen-set filter is the one just below the doors; rightmost of the three as you look in.
 Gen-set oil is full but black.
 Engine oil is full and clean - did we change it more recently than Huatulco?
 Vacuum = 0?

 Took a spin in the dinghy; the weight of the four of us exposed the leaks.

 Dinghy dragged up on the dock and applied LockTite to the suspect areas.

 Sea Bass dinner; remarkably bad service.

 Chris and Liz of Espiritu and Howard and Lynn came over to the Lib with flutes, guitar, violin and tambourine to have an Irish jam for a couple hours.

Tue. 11/6/12
  86F/79% Overcast, heavy morning rains that continued through the day.  Some deck scrubbing until the rains increased to pounding.  Internet out.  We’d like to put a bead of epoxy all the way around the dinghy but the weather won’t cooperate.

 Light dinner and up to the lounge to watch the blue and rediculous election coverage; more tedious and less entertaining than turtles racing.  Such and such inconsequential county in such and such pre-decided state is leaning toward one of the candidates by some small percent.  I do, however, like watching Erin Burnett.  Oh, why won't she return my emails?

Wed. 11/7/12
 9.22 x 79.56 Overcast morning, left early for Portobelo for something to do while we wait for the new mainsail to be delivered.
 It was a rough passage; wicked wind and waves as we motored through several squalls. 
 Arrived around 11:30.  Motor-dinghied in and found Captain Jack’s, a hostel/bar/restaurant a few hundred feet up a hill in this tiny town.  Excellent wi-fi, good burgers and plenty of salty stories from Jack.

What a treat to find a table, let alone a decent one, out in the sticks of Portobelo
Cristo Negra, Portobelo

Thu. 11/8/12
 Woke to steady rains.  I took a panga in for more exploring and a last email check at Captain Jack’s.  Stood in pounding rain for nearly an hour waiting for a panga to return to the Lib.  Finally I recruited some guy, not a water-taxi driver, to run me out for two bucks.  We immediately hoisted anchor for Shelter Bay, probably around noon.  Mostly rainy but better weather on this return trip; arrived about four.  09.22.087 x 079.57.038 82F/84%

Fri. 11/9/12
 We flipped the dinghy up on the dock again, not because we found any leaks, but to apply “TipTop” liquid rubber to the entire area where the pontoons meet the metal hull...for insurance.  At sixty bucks a pint it had better do the job.

Sat. 11/10/12
 Chris, Liz, Howard, Lynn and we four join for dinner.  Horribly bad service and after three requests over a half hour, I could not get them to bring the bill.  Frustrated, I threw down a sawbuck, went to our waitress and said, “I’ll just pay some other time”, walked off and never went back.

Sun. 11/11/12 Adios Panama, finally!

 Espiritu’s Chris and Liz had planned to buddy-boat with us to Isla Providencia but they are having second thoughts what with the stormy conditions predicted and being kind of nervous after the lightning strike they took in Las Brisas.  They did decide to go along after all.

 0625 09.22 x 79.57 85F/80% Mostly overcast but with sun breaking through as we depart Shelter Bay.  By 0700 we are well clear of the breakwaters and at 0730 under 18-20k winds out goes the jib, up goes our shiny new main and off goes the engine.

 We have yet to find water clear or calm enough to clean the hull.  The speedometer has been clogged with sea grass and barnacles the whole time.

 1630 motor-sailing; big ten-minute squall.

 1730 Put in one reef as the wind slowly increased; waves and sea pounding the hell out of us and, as it turned out, continued through the night and the next day.

Mon. 11/12/12

 The incessant banging of the waves made last night the most uncomfortable on record for me.  They weren’t regular in intensity, nor in angle of attack.  Even with big waves like these, if there is a rhythm you can get used to it.  I tried pointing myself in every compass direction and could not find a position that allowed me to relax at all and when I thought I’d found one, sure enough, a wave would crash over the bow and drip its cold drops through the leaky hatch and shock me wide awake.  I ended up in the salon, the middle of the see-saw, which was fine, and got a couple hours’ sleep before my 0400 watch.

 Sails only all night.

 0500 Espiritu's engine was overheating and they decided to cut to port, straight for Isla San Andres.  At sun up we decided to join them after our two tough days at sea.

 1745 12.34 x 81.41 80F/69% We arrive at San Andres.

 The really shallow spots in the entry channel (as low as 7.5’, which is about what we draw) made it difficult to stay laid into the heavy wind while the boys dropped the main.

  We spotted Espiritu and picked an anchor point, then another and another as we couldn’t get the hook to take.  Finally after a half-dozen abortive attempts, it stuck and we could weather the intermittent mini-squalls under the bimini's cover rather than on deck fussing with the windlass.  It was well dark by this time. 

Tue. 11/13/12

 In contrast, last night was one of the most comfortable nights I’ve spent on board; a strong breeze blew down through the hatch, cool enough that I didn’t need either of the corner fans and there were no punishing waves smacking the hull to jar me awake.  As far as I could tell, the boat hadn’t moved all night.
 Small comforts at nighttime around me and in reach, as is everything in the berth, are books and reading glasses, a bottle of water and Kleenex, pencils and paper.  No ciniceros since smoking is for on deck only.  But it’s not so hard to get there through my overhead hatch.
 A fan and the little reading light over my shoulder are so familiar, I just reach for them without looking.
 It was a good night.

 So, this morning, still nicely settled at anchor we dinghied in at 9:00 to meet Chris and Liz and to complete customs and immigration paperwork, which was done conveniently right there in the small marina.

 Unlike Panama, Columbia doesn’t use U.S. dollars so after several tries we found a bank to convert some cash to pesos.  ($1=~1770p)

 Back to Nene’s Marina, only to be told we were anchored too near the container docks and needed to move.  This was not good news as in this harbor it is hard to find a good grip on the bed.  We chose to deal with that unappealing task later and took to touring the town of Porto Andres on foot.

 Back on board, a brief underwater inspection revealed barnacles encrusting the entire hull, rudder and all the rest of Lib's "down there" parts.  They cannot be picked off by hand; this'll require some heavy-duty work to remedy.  But first to reset the anchor well clear of the shipping docks.

 During the tedious process of holding into the wind, dropping anchor then backing gently to test the grip, repeat and repeat, several mini-squalls made everything just a little more difficult.  Steve donned mask and flippers to eyeball the anchor’s position and eventually dove down to set it by hand.  While at this heroic occupation out of nowhere a wicked squall blew in.  I insisted he get aboard and he did, reluctantly; good thing, too - the winds hit 35k accelerating the heavy rain so it felt like hail.  
 After half an hour it passed, Steve dove in again and jammed the anchor into the stickiest sand he could find.  Periodically he or I took the shallow dive down to see if the anchor had shifted since it’s hard to tell from on board.

Wed. 11/14/12

 0630 84F/69% Sunny, windy, not a drop of rain all night and the boat hasn’t drifted at all.

 1000 After my swim we dinghied in to exchange currency, get online and check out of the port.  Checking in and out of ports is required even within a given country.  I want to rent a buggy of some kind to explore the island as we (think) we are leaving tomorrow.

 I worked online for an hour at "Coffee Break" then rented a golf cart for the day.  Steve was adamant about scraping the hull; I couldn’t coax him into taking the afternoon off to tour the small island so Mike, Bryan and I took off feeling only a little guilt.
  No spectacular adventures to relate but as we followed the coast, the changes in complexion of the beach were beautiful...
 ...from softly lapping with nearly no waves to rough and choppy for adventuresome sail-sportsmen to violently crashing surf over volcanic and coral shores you’d only view, not venture upon.

 When renting a cart I suggest first insuring its power.  Twice we tried to cross the island rather than continuing to circle it and both times were denied.  As the elevation increased our torque just wasn’t up to the task and we ground to a halt, coasted backwards and went back down, defeated, to the amusement of the locals watching us.
Indigenous fauna at Gordo's Snapper Cave

 The day ended in a rendezvous with Steve for a flip flop-textured, cardboard-like kingfish meal at Miss Celia's and some final provisioning.

Thu. 11/15/12

 Up at 0600 to find the boys already scrambling round the deck in preparation to depart.

 This was a day easily as rough as the two to San Andres, equally peppered with strong-winded squalls and, again, winds blowing almost directly from our destination.

 We noticed the 12-volt system was not charging.  This would be a particularly bad time to lose our engine since with it off we would need to tack radically to make even small forward progress - and the sun was setting quickly.  To add insult to our injury, in this final hour we were hit with the strongest and largest squall of the trip cutting visibility to a few hundred yards. 
 Fortunately the engine held out, the squall dissipated and passed just as we entered the southern channel of Isla de Providencia.  High winds and shallow waters made for a dicey twilight entrance.  Once into the anchorage all went calm and in ten feet of water the anchor took on the first try.  We laid down a whopping fifty feet of chain, giving us a more than adequate 5:1 ratio.  1830 13.22 x 81.22.
 Meanwhile Espiritu, in periodic contact, was still seven or eight miles out in those very rough seas and 20-25k winds.  Their engine would run a short time then conk out and they were quite concerned about sailing into the channel.  We readied the dinghy with lights, gloves and long lines to help her turn if necessary.  Eventually she came into view and Steve and Bryan motored out to play pied piper.  Mike and I and the folks from Talaria watched from the safety of our ship as first the little, bobbing tub broke through the dark, dutifully followed by the towering Espiritu round this buoy and that to safety; pretty good entertainment. 

Fri. 11/16/12
 About to head for the administrative office on the dock, we were radioed to check in with a few others on Captain Dan’s boat.  One of his three-woman crew had a family emergency and needed to be processed pronto so she could be flown back to Chile as soon as possible.
 Every place - house, boat or cardboard box - must have a black hole.  In a house the usual victim gone missing is that one sock.  Here, on Liberation II, it’s pens.  There were several on board when we left in June and I brought a dozen more at the beginning of this leg.  Already it’s a hunt whenever we need one. I’m convinced that Bryan has hidden them all.

 I’m tellin’ ya, had it had been served in a Captain D’s on styrofoam plates with no description it would still have been the best seafood meal I’d had in maybe forever.  It was like this: Steve went off to run and we three wandered on.  I asked a group of weathered guys hanging by the roadside, “Por favor, donde esta una buen restaurante?”.  “We speak English (dumb gringo)”, and pointed up the hill.  “Eet’s by a French mon; ring de bell.”  The bell hung from a stick between two pieces of old fence.

  I saw in a woman in the yard and rang.  “Come in”, she said.  “Bonjour”, I said.  “I don’t speak French”, she said and we walked on through.  There were just two tables and the one she had been using she quickly cleared and covered with a clean tablecloth.
 “Something to drink?”  “Sure...whisky?”  “I’ll go see” as she walked next door returning with a bottle of rum to which I agreed.  She made a ron con limon concoction that was too bitter for my taste.  Some freshly crushed guava cut through the lime nicely.  No point in a menu, husband Olivier explained; he free-dives with spear guns each morning and never knows what he’ll bring back.  Today it is parrotfish and whopping king crab legs.  We went for the parrotfish which came gently seasoned with butter, herbs and garlic.  Sides were mashed potatoes from Costa Rica, white rice and green salad with peas under Italian dressing - all very fresh and prepared a few feet from where we sat.  The entrée, a generous portion, was to perfection: flavorful, flaky and moist.  We were all well pleased.

 Anparo is Colombian and “Olivo” French; both speak English well.  They were happy to have conversation and to tell their story and seemed to enjoy my awkward wordplay.

 A strong coffee and cigarette punctuated the end of the meal and it was nearly 2:30, time to meet Steve at the dinghy dock about a mile down the road.
 We hunted down Mr. Bush, the island’s “facilitator”, a man of many hats who owns a sizable store, handles the island’s check-in and -out, may be the mayor and in general is the man to see and be seen with.  Proud of his position, he made it known that the ambassador of Chile had called him personally regarding the Chilean girl's emergency.  He promised to send someone out to look at our alternator in the morning.  (Never happened).

 There is no eatery or bar with internet; you can drink or 'net, but not at the same time.  Come to think of it, we’ve seen no bars at all; the two drinks I had were at lunch and in a supermercado.  Still, it’s charming, well-kept and friendly and many more locals speak English than on San Andres.

 We wandered to get the lay of the small town, checking prices for future provisioning and scooter rentals.  About to buy a postcard, I inquired about stamps; there are none on the island.  We didn’t do much provisioning but made mental notes on what was available.  The produce was generally crappy and we learned that on Wednesdays the fresh stuff arrives.
 The boys spent hours this evening brainstorming over the alternator.

Sat. 11/17/12
 Steve spent the morning on the high wire replacing bulbs.

 Half past twelve, following a radio invitation, we dinghied to the Fish and Farm Coop's “Rondon” meal.  Neh, should've ordered simple fish.  All went for a hike up the road, except me; I went down the mile or so to Don Olivo’s to sip rum and smoke with my new-found friends.  Steve and Mike picked me up via dinghy and we packed it in for the night.
"Rondon" woks

Sun. 11/18/12
 Nice breeze and no rain all night.  Pretty blustery this morning.  84F/76%.  Overboard for a morning baño and to shore for some internet.
 Nope, no internet on Sundays.  We waited out the showers, that continued through the morning, under trees and building overhangs.  Steve met with a Mr. Ping to arrange an alternator inspection in the morning and with nothing else to do, we wandered Santa Catalina, a small island to the northwest connected to Isla Providencia by a 200-meter floating bridge.  There we found an open restaurant.  A bit early in the day for such a big meal, but my fish, Steve’s pork and our seafood soup and plantain were all very good.  A walk along the tiny island's south coast followed and on up to the statue of the Virgin Mary and what remained of Captain Morgan’s defensive wall, then back to the western tip where one of Morgan’s cannons still sat.

Hello?  Please speak up.

We took a close 2nd in the Battered Bimini Awards

 Steve and Bryan dinghied over twice to get diesel, 10 gallons per trip, which we syphoned into the tank.
 Several swims ensued, a few rounds of blackjack and early to bed.

Mon. 11/19/12
 82F/80% Very blustery with squalls.
 Taking advantage of a lull in the rain we all went to shore, alternator in hand...the mountain to Mohammed approach.  Mr. Bush and Mr. Ping having failed us, we now went in search of an O’Leario Robinson, reputed to be an accomplished electrician.

 The military presence in town had increased substantially; this was the day the dispute between Nicaragua and Colombia over possession of San Andres, Isla Providencia, Santa Catalina and a few smaller cays was to come to a head.

 Having tracked down and consulted with O’Leario, we hung around until our internet shop opened, nearly an hour late.  I found a nice little place for desayuno.
 Mid-afternoon we buzzed over to Don Olivo’s place.  Available today was tuna, black crab and one last portion of parrotfish, with sides of rice, salad and properly-prepared plantain.  The first meal was no fluke; this was just as good.  As we finished up a terrific squall developed holding us at bay for a half hour of rum, coffee and conversation.

Tue. 11/20/12
 The number of cruisers at anchor here has doubled to ten since we arrived.
 A cruise ship appeared and anchored at the mouth of the harbor but all day we saw none of her tenders shuttling crew nor tourists onto shore.  A couple pangas did make runs back and forth, but with no passengers; probably delivering basic supplies.
 Our first attempts at designing water catchers...and the first time it hasn’t rained.

Wed. 11/21/12

 A second warship is anchored in the mouth of the harbor.

 Our whole crew took shore leave in search of internet and with hopes of finding our alternator back in working condition.  We found internet.  Evidently the alternator had to be sent to San Andres and the ferry only runs on certain days.

  We rented four scooters for four hours (35,000p ea.) and circled the island making stops at shops and vistas along the way.

  Mike and I, the road-less-traveled guys, broke away and discovered the hidden “Roland Roots Bar”, tucked away in Bahia Manzanillo.

  We later caught up to the others, moored to a table at a little roadhouse, having ice cream.  Then on to Almond beach, which was down a quarter-mile-long, steep footpath, ending at a little shack where young entrepreneur Delmar Robinson made us “Coco Locos”.

War and peace.
 From there (after I pled old-age and got a ride back up to the street on Delmar‘s motorcycle) Mike and I wound up at Don Olivo’s for coffee while Steve and Bryan took the opportunity to shuttle another ten gallons of diesel to the dinghy.

"Tulie" and Mike

 I did personal provisioning: beer, scotch, cigs and a bit of fruit.

 After dark Steve and I went back ashore to disco down, which translated to a few games of pool and a long, dark walk to a non-existent club.

 Not a drop of rain all day, Murphy's Law for us having our rain-catchers in place.

Thu. 11/22/12 Thanksgiving
 And not a drop of rain all night.  Steve and Mike collected another 10 gal. diesel.

 Thanksgiving dinner at the Fish and Farm Co-op.  When I saw the dry slices of turkey being served I switched my order to fish, which was very good.

 Whining to one of the employees about bad internet connections in town, he loaned me an “internet stick” for our few remaining days that worked great.
 Fat and happy, nice and dry we struck out for the Lib in the dark night.  It was really fetchy and we got soaked to the bone, but were in good moods as we tied up.

 They don’t show it, but this must be really frustrating for Mike and Bryan.  We were stuck for the first week in Shelter Bay, had some tough sailing days getting to Isla Providencia and now we’ve been stuck here for over a week and their time to leave is approaching fast.

Fri. 11/23/12
 The first fully sunny day; there will be swimming.

Sat. 11/24/12
 Another 8 gallons of diesel, we're now pretty full and adding 40 gallons of tap water, that's just over half full.  Chris, Liz & we four shot pool for a couple hours and had a whole grilled “Deep Snapper” at Don Olivo’s; 20,000p each.

Anparo prepping the plantain leaf

I love (and envy) these two

 With our departure date, and so Mike and Brian’s flight date, still undecided the possibility arose that they would fly from here or San Andres.  With the ship in shape, it’s Chris Parker’s morning SSB weather threats holding us back.

Sun. 11/25/12
 We briefly attended a li’l cruiser’s get-together over on Santa Catalina.  I played "Mexican Train" with a few of the ladies.  No, it's not THAT, you pervs.  It's a game with white dominoes that have images instead of pips.  Mike took a LONG walk 'round the island.

 The townsfolk held a march protesting Nicaragua's grab for San Andrés' and Providencia's control over their surrounding waters.  Plenty of cops and military presence.  The previous week the International Court of Justice had upheld Colombia's sovereignty over the islands but expanded Nicaragua's maritime territory, surrounding and impinging upon (according to Olivo) the islands to a mere 12 mile radius.  I asked him and he said he preferred the islands to stay Colombian; things were fine as is.

 Okay, we’ll probably leave tonight or tomorrow, striking out for Roatan and possibly Rio Dulce from where Mike and Bryan will fly home.

Mon. 11/26/12
 Last night we had the first rain in almost a week; pretty substantial, but it didn’t last long.
 Today I was in and out of the water all day, probably five times.  We got some late-day heavy rains.  Wrapping things up in anticipation of our departure, maybe later today, we returned the internet stick, bought ten more gallons of diesel, a couple drinks and au revoirs with Olivo and Anparo and lastly some friendly pool with Espiritu.  I snagged one final case of Heineken and in the steady rain we returned to the mother ship.
  1730 Depart Isla Providencia under double reef and half our jib.  83F, 83%.  One last big squall bid us adieu as we cleared the shallow bahia and got out into the open sea.
 Rough going; barely possible to move around safely in my berth, let alone sleep.  A move to the salon was little improvement and with barely a wink of sleep I’m called for my 4:00am watch.

Tue. 11/27/12
 Uneventful day, we’re all tired from random sleep patterns.

Wed. 11/28/12
 Awoke to a pea soup overcast, calm seas and nearly no wind, and what there was was coming straight at our nose.
 Sunrise always seems to come early at sea and before six, over my shoulder, a glowing shone through the otherwise deep gray cast over the remaining 359 degrees.  This was short-lived as two squalls developed behind us and masked any sign of morning.

  Both storms moved faster than us and steadily gained.  As if we were their target [now 8 mi. away] they matched our course perfectly.  They must be driven by higher altitude wind currents because all our windicators showed headwind, yet the two storms were clearly approaching our stern.  By this time Steve was up and we got well prepared, now tying off lines [7 mi. away], now closing hatches and portals. [6 mi.] These were textbook squalls; picture perfect and snarling, snapping at our heels. [5 mi.] There will be rain!  Ah-hah, I’ll collect it. [4 mi.] As a seasoned squall-spotter, I knew there was little time for preparation and set to work with a makeshift funnel and section of garden hose. [3 mi.] This contraption I bungeed to where I guessed would offer a fair runoff from the bimini. [2 mi.] The hose led down into the largest container we had, maybe three gallons, on the cockpit floor. [1 mi.]  The squall hit with scant prelude and by the bucketful.  Too bad I misjudged where the runoff would be and, hunkered in the relative dry of the hard dodger, watched while nothing filled the jug.  Fifteen minutes tortured by watching the wasted water was enough and unraveling the bungees, I climbed out to hold the funnel where it needed to be.  In the early stages of hypothermia I was able to fill the first jug almost faster than the boys could replace it with a fresh one, and another and another until, in under a half hour, all were topped off - probably ten gallons in all.  With the last, I washed away the accumulated salt from my hair, ears and face and easily refilled it.  Voila!  If we’d’ve had another hundred gallon container I’m sure we could have filled it because once the squall was on top of us its winds boosted our speed to match the storm’s and for the next couple hours we sat dead center, the pounding storm and boat chugging along together toward the tip of Honduras.
 Eventually the cell dissipated, the rain stopped and the seas calmed somewhat.  Passing the eastern-most part of Honduras we turned sharply to port, now going nearly due west with calm seas and barely a breeze.  Where are those easterly trade winds when you need 'em?
 Just before nightfall the jib and main were furled and strapped for the duration.  At speed, we would arrive in Roatan at 3:00 am, not ideal timing to suss out a new port, so there is no hurry between now and sunrise. 

Thu. 11/29/12 (clocks back an hour)
 I think the outbreak of sudden calm woke me at 0200; Steve had cut our speed to less than three knots in order to lollygag along our way, paralleling the now visible island lights of Roatan.  At this low speed and without sails the boat would be difficult to manage were there any wind, waves or current, but there are none and we slog on.  And it’s downright chilly; it’s been a long time since long pants and a shirt.

 With the morning glow we headed for land, Little French Cay.  Two of the three openings to the small anchorage had clear signs of a reef - small breaking waves.  We tried the third.  Poorly marked, we crept closer until the bed was visible.  I had just taken a breath to yell, “Back Up!”, ‘cause it went from visible bottom to way too much detail fast when, thunk, we hit.  Even at two knots it’s quite a shock, especially with this being the first time our keel has met ground.  A plume of mud billowed from under the bow and a small cloud of bluish smoke issued from somewhere aft.  Had the screw hit something, too?  Steve slammed into reverse to avoid a full-on grounding, then backed up gently to loop around into more water.  We explored the other two openings, lying between islands parallel to shore: no and no way Jose.  Chris on SSB, still in Isla Providencia, got us in touch with Rick and Rosanna of S/V Tension Reliever via VHF.  They were already anchored in French Cay Harbor and talked us through the narrows.
 16.21 x 86.26 Safely anchored we went ashore to check the amenities and learn where and how to check in to Honduras.  Fifteen bucks a week gets us showers, use of the (paid) laundry, internet (rare), bus rides to Eldon’s Grocery, etc.  A taxi to Customs and Immigration and the Port Captain’s office in the aptly-named downtown Coxen Hole got us to a padlocked office.  We were told to either wait there three hours or go to the airport to find Vicky, the immigration official, who evidently floats between the two locations.  Steve pressed the issue with the Port Captain and actually made some headway, securing our exit form (before we’d even officially “entered”) and cruising permit which allows us a fifteen-day stay.

 Light-headed, I insisted on a snack, had at a nearby taquería.  A helpful employee hailed us a cab and we’re off to the airport.  At the airport Customs and Immigration we were told to go back downtown.  Okay, enough with the runaround.  Again Steve pressed the issue and we were finally directed to the nebulous Vicky, soaking us for twenty American for something and flat out refusing to give a receipt.  Fine, whatevah.  Taking this opportunity to confirm and buy their tickets, Mike and Bryan discovered the 5:00 pm flight had been cancelled and had to take the 11:00 am instead; either would have arrived at SFO at the same time meaning they had six hours to kill somewhere en route.  Furthermore, “Oh, sorry, we don’t take credit cards or checks” - they’d have to pay tomorrow.  Jesus Murphy, what a convoluted monkey fist we're trying to unravel.  A 150 lempira ($7.50) taxi back to where we left the dinghy then on to the Lib...

...BUT NO - wild and crazy guys that we are, we swung over to Frenchy's 44 island, a lovely, well-kept oasis - one of the islands we had in the early morning perused for a channel entrance.  Tiki bars, grillhouse and shallow beaches of transplanted white sand.  We sunned and relaxed for a couple hours over a few rum-runners.

Anti-glare iScreen
 At five-ish on into the little Lilu Dock for a cruiser gathering over pizza and beer.

Fri. 11/30/12
 Are we on land?  I awoke at sunrise to a dead-flat, windless morning; the sea is glass and the only sounds are the faint rumble of waves over the reef and the vocal competition of roosters on shore.
 As the boys arise and start gathering up for their flight home, a seemingly innocuous cloud approaches.  “A little shower”, I sez, “let’s plug the holes”.
By the time they boarded the dinghy there was a steady rain.  With no room for me among all the bags ‘n bodies, I bid them bon voyage.  An hour later Steve’s not back and the rain is torrential; I can’t even see a hundred meters away to tell IF he was coming back.  Unfortunately he hain’t got no handheld to let me know. I figure he’s holed up somewhere ‘till this passes.
 A month of salt and sweat made laundry an imperative, accomplished this afternoon while Steve did a big walkabout round this end of Roatán.

Sat. 12/1/12
 Steve took the free bus to Eldon’s Grocery and I stayed at Lilu’s, taking advantage of a rare internet connection.  We lunched at Frenchy's 44.  Steve later did fuel provisioning, 8 gallons diesel and 2 gallons gas.  We went to the evening pot luck at Lilu’s but weren’t allowed our offering of wine so we left without eating.  Hey, it’s Saturday, and we’ve been wanting to check out Fantasy Island.  The drink special was a “Blue Lagoon”, not good - we switched to basic tequila and rum.  The first monkey I’ve seen outside a zoo was hanging out in the trees outside the bar.  Steve offered him MY drink but he only took the straw.

  A guatusa (big muskrat-looking thing with no tail) was wandering nonchalantly on the grounds.
  About to leave, we saw a troupe of Garifuna dancers and drummers gathering and stayed for their performance. 

 Afterwards, a few games of pool sharing the worst stick in the world, and the only one they had.  We considered not mis-cueing a good shot.  In fact, both of us (and me twice) scratched on the break - something neither of us had done since the 1950s.

Sun. 12/2/12
 With four indicator lights on each system, we assumed both were fully charged and hadn’t run the gen-set or engine since Friday.  Well, now there wasn’t enough juice to start either.  A jump-start from Wayne’s (Zeppelin) portable battery charger got us started and Steve went window-shopping for 12-volt batteries.
 In the afternoon I jumped in for the first time, doing some scraping & adjusting the snubbers.  Visibility about five feet.  There was a stray mooring line, still weighted down, floating just on the surface with no buoy, a perfect trap to trash a screw.  Deciding not to attach a temporary buoy, Steve dove down and lopped off its top twelve feet.

Mon. 12/3/12
 Steady rain this morning as Espiritu arrives in French Cay Harbor, around 0700.  Battery-hunting, Steve was gone not much more than an hour when he returned, sharing the dinghy with a shiny new 12-volter.  Installed after some difficulty, it seems to have done the trick as we’re holding a 13+ volt charge.
 As much as he loves to pitch things over the side insisting, “The dolphins like to play with it”, I guess he draws the line at batteries that weigh more than dolphins.  He is now headed for a recycle center where they pay three lempiras per pound for batteries.  At maybe eighty pounds he’ll get twelve or thirteen bucks.  Meanwhile I’m going overboard to dislodge a few more barnacles.
Lilu's Dock
Lilu's owner's boat caught fire and exploded.
 One very early morning we noticed a few new neighbors anchored in the harbor.  It wasn't likely that they came in through the shallows at night, so where'd they come from?  Rick and Rosanna of Tension Reliever, usually on top of current events, radioed us to see if we had the scoop.  It turns out they left their slips at Lilu's dock in the middle of the night.  Kay, of Valentina, which the night before had taken the slip right beside the dock owner's big blue boat explained: "I woke up from bright orange flickering lights flooding the berth through the portholes.  Just afterwards we heard a big "boom" and immediately left the slip, the blue boat in flames and just before its mast crashed down right where we had been tied up."
 So, what is flammable on a boat - gas, diesel, propane?  And what could ignite it?  Were the deckhands stoned and lighting farts?
Tue. 12/4/12
 While Steve went to town for final departure paperwork I went to the Iguana Farm.  There, since 1980, owner Sherman Arch has provided a safe home for the lizards and at last estimate there were 4000.  They could walk out if they wanted to but don’t - plenty of food and safe from the locals who eat them.  The grown iguanas are too spoiled to make it on the outside but Sherman transplants the hatchlings around Isla Roatan.

 Steve came back fed so I went over to “Frenchy's Island” and treated myself to a camarón y langosta late lunch.
 At sunset we stripped off the sail cover and generally got things in order for a daybreak departure.

Wed. 12/5/12
 0630 We’re off, SLOWLY and in zig-zags to avoid the wicked shallow spots.  Before 0700 we’re off and running.
 Now, thirteen hours later, the wind is and has been negligible all day and the seas are rolling just enough to make you check your steps.  We tacked a few times, more out of boredom than strategy.  Now rhumblining to Rio Dulce.
"Curly" has been with us since at least Providencia.

  Steve made some horribly insensitive jokes about Curly the lizard, suggesting he had “pitched him in” for a man-overboard drill.  I did not find it funny.  Last we saw he was slithering into Guatemala, easily avoiding the check-in process.
Thu. 12/6
 1000 Anchor down outside Livingston Bay, the mouth of the Rio Dulce.  The rumors of very shallow water are true.  We’re the better part of a mile off shore and it’s only twelve feet.  Steve arranged for a panga to guide us into the Bay and to help us clear “the bank”, if necessary, and it seems that help is de rigueur; most boats get grounded.  We did, too - before grounding our last reading was 5.5’.  To set us free what they did was run a line from the top of our 63' mast and pull from the side until we’re hiked way over, nearly to the cap rail, tilting and raising the keel just enough, maybe a foot, to clear the mud.
 Having crossed the bank we anchored and dinghied in to complete Customs and Immigration.  After which, dead on our feet, back to the boat to crash.

Fri. 12/7/12
Morning fishermen, Livingston Bay
Pointing toward Rio Dulce
 Up and into the Rio Dulce proper by 0630.  A welcome departure from the long straight rhumb lines at sea, the Dulce snakes into Guatemala's interior calling for manual steering all the way.
  Someone accurately described going up this river as like going back in time; quiet, shadowy, thick with huge vines and trees towering over the water; thatch-roofed huts and dugout canoes.

 Just a mile from the final destination of this leg of the journey, Fronteras, sure enough, we grounded out again in about five feet of water.
 After an hour or so trying to drag it this way and that with the dinghy we were about to give up.  Along came a panga with a 70-horse and had us in the clear in no time.  If someone you don't like is planning a trip up the Rio Dulce, tell them to head for 15º 40' x 88º 57'.

 I wish we'd had one more crew so I’d've been free to take pictures of our travails - especially when they tipped the boat in Livingston Bay.
  Approaching the town of Fronteras, tired but happy to be out of the pluff mud, Steve VHF'ed down his list of potential extended-stay marinas and as Monkey Bay was the first and only to respond, that's where we headed.  So Steve is peering over the deck to insure everything is deeper than 6’2” and I'm at the helm.  On VHF the voice from Monkey Bay Marina, for some reason, asked us to come in aft-backwards.  I said, “Sure”, knowing Cappy had never backed into a slip.  Hey, it’s now or never.  

 I’d seen him practice backing up once or twice, to get the feel of the effect of what’s called “prop-wash”.  I don’t know why it doesn’t occur, or isn’t noticeable, motoring forward, but in reverse, with the screw now spinning opposite, the stern pulls a bit starboard and throws off the idea that the boat will just go straight back.
 I figure if he’s got an ounce of seaman in him, he can back that aft up.
 Steve nicely nestled the Lib, in reverse, into our slip.

 20-some miles inland, Monkey Bay Marina rates high on my "marina scale"...why?...because although it has no bar, restaurant or fuel services, its reasonable slip fees, laid back and friendly peeps and the amenities it does have are commendable: warm and roomy outdoor but private showers, fully-stocked honor-system beer and pop cooler, potable deck water, WiFi, DIY laundry, a big community fridge/freezer and free use of the marina's two launches - all in a lovely, quiet, tropical setting.  Quiet ‘cept for Spice, the lovable but noisy dock dog.  
 Jen (pron. “yen”), the brand-new Danish manager of the marina, went out of his way to give us the grand tour, not just of the marina and surrounding grounds but also a boat ride to town, pointing out banks, mercados, bus stations and generally the lay of the land.  We took him to lunch at Bruno’s Marina.

Sat. 12/8/12
 In the morning we dinghied across the river to the weekly swap-meet at Mario’s Marina.  A lively event with plenty of boat parts and accessories, but I only bought some jewelry a little girl was selling.  Then on down the mile or so to town to figure how to get to San Pedro Sula (Honduras), having already booked our flights.  We ruled out the two bus companies – their once-daily, five-hour trips would arrive too late.  Some haggling with taxis got their price down from $400 to $150, to which we tentatively agreed but didn’t commit.  The day before, a pretty expatriate shop owner offered to take our picture and today, passing her shop, I thought that with her being bilingual and friendly, it couldn’t hurt to ask about transportation.  Yes, she knew and put us in touch with an acquaintance who had made that drive for her.  $140 was agreed upon and we’d meet at Bruno’s, 6am.
 Since San Francisco we've sailed some 4,600 miles and, depending on our route, have about 1,700 to go.