Saturday, 29 December 2012

Christmas Time at Guanaja ….. Dec 2012

23 – 28 December 2012:  Sandy Bay, Guanaja, Honduras  16.27N 85.52W
PC200054 PC200056 PC200050
Tiny Bonacca with Guanaja in the background, a beautiful sunny start to our stay in Honduras

PC230009 Checking In and Moving On
The lush and hilly island of Guanaja in the Bay Islands Group is sparsely populated, just a few houses at the fishing port and a handful of small properties dotted around the bays, its a sleepy place.  All the action happens on the adjacent teeny island of Bonacca, its about the size of a postage stamp, the shops, cafes, markets, bank and official offices are all squeezed in here, along with the housing for the population of over 8,000.  It reminded us of some of  the overcrowded villages in the San Blas, where houses were built millimetres apart and not an inch of the island was unused. But it was a quirky little place, well kept and clean, most of the buildings were on stilts, canals dissected some of the pathways – the locals were very friendly and welcoming. PC230006

Our arrival ashore to check into Honduras timed perfectly with the unloading of the supply boat from the mainland.  Hand pushed laden carts and trolleys were going in all directions, the paths (no roads) were awash with street vendors selling all manor of things in the build up to Christmas,  there was a real buzz.  We relaxed over lunch while the produce all got unpacked then we hit the fruit and vegetable stalls.  This was the best selection and quality of produce we had seen since Santa Marta in Colombia….. just left Panama for dead.  Our nomadic life requires us to grab whatever fresh produce is available locally, and sometimes the quality is not great,  so we get very excited when faced with a reasonable selection that has not already gone limp or rotten!!. 

At anchor off the town had us feeling like we were a centrepiece on a roundabout.  All manor of small craft were whizzing past us in various directions, ferrying people and goods to unknown destinations.  PC230027After an overnight passage we always need to catch up on sleep, so our small flotilla of 5 new arrivals relocated a couple of miles away to the very picturesque, peaceful and well protected anchorage of Sandy Bay.  Pine trees lined the hills right to the waters edge; a few timber homes built on poles nestled between them, the occasional palm added a touch of the tropics but at first glance we would have easily said we were back in New Zealand anchored in an inlet in our very own Bay of Islands – all we needed was to hear tui’s or bellbirds to complete the picture.

Hiking – Honduran Style 
We took the opportunity to get some serious exercise one day and joined IB and Rebecca off Passport and Gar off My Way to do a hike up and over the island to one of the beaches on the Northeast coast.  Gar has been living around these parts a while and knew the island like the back of his hand, just as well as the path signs soon disappeared, as did the track in certain places!  It was 3 1/2 hours steady uphill climbing, luckily there was plenty of tree cover as it was another stunner of a day.  The views from the top across to neighbouring Roatan were excellent but the mainland lay hidden behind an invisible mist.
PC230019 PC230022 PC230017

Down to the Beach for a Well Earned RestPC230042
The half hour descent to sea level was short but steep, my legs feeling like jelly at the bottom.  The reward was a pristine white sandy beach and the shacky Green Flash Restaurant built on stilts over the waters edge, magic – time for some very well deserved lunch and a quick siesta.  It was a great day out and not only did we get some much needed exercise we also got to see so much of the island by foot and then completed it with a water taxi boat trip back via a cove that Christopher Columbus sailed into on his 4th voyage to the New World when he discovered Guanaja, then we transited a canal dug through the mangrove swampland on the island back to our side.  We were home on the boats just in time for a cooling dip, shower and happy hour – phew, big day.

And So This is Christmas …..
Has it really been a whole year since we had last Christmas in the Cape Verde Islands, one day before departing on our Atlantic Crossing and heading for the Caribbean.  So many miles have gone under the keel since then, oceans and seas crossed and now we have ended up for this Christmas in Honduras, who would have thought!  I wonder where next Christmas will be?

There was no rest for skipper Christmas morning though, the dinghy outboard had developed a fuel leak overnight so it was fixing that instead of playing with new toys before we went ashore for lunch.  Manati Restaurant in the bay organised a Christmas Lunch, they supplied two huge bar-b-qued turkeys. Members of the expat community and all cruising boats were welcome and we all took a main course side dish and a dessert.  It was another gorgeous day and a great time was had by all.
 PC250004 PC250008
 Christmas Day 2012 – Mark, Amanda: Lindy and Barry off Samarang: Nicky and Phil off Ajaya
 PC230033 PC250007 PC230035
**********Feliz Navidad**********

For more info on arrival procedure, waypoints and the anchorages click here to view our Cruising Info Blog

Monday, 24 December 2012

Heading to Honduras ….. December 2012

15 – 22 December 2012: Providencia, Colombia to Guanaja, Honduras  16.27N 85.52W
An Easy Start from Providencia
We left our favourite Caribbean island of Providencia and had an easy start just a short motor 10 miles north inside the fringing reef system up to Low Cay.  We were in company with our English friends Barry and Lindy on Samarang and American boat Passport with IB and Rebecca who we had just met.  Sadly the anchorage didn’t quite live up to our expectations,  there was a considerable amount of wave action coming over the reef making the anchorage quite choppy, deploying the dinghy extremely difficult, the water clarity quite disturbed and keeping the snorkel above the waves quite a feat!  Oh well, been there ~ done that.

Going North – Destination UnknownPC190039
Next morning it was all ears tuned to the weather forecast.  Our weather window was shortening as a cold front formed in the Gulf of Mexico.  The stronger winds should only just brush us down here but it would set a 3–4 metre swell on the northern Honduran coast by the weekend.  That gave us plenty of time to get to the Bay Islands but little time to explore the other cays and reefs along the way, still the weather is always changeable so we left in ideal conditions and with no fixed plans.  All day we had light winds just on the beam, almost flat seas, and blue skies, magic.  The three of us ran with different sail plans, us with a double reefed main, Samarang just one reef and Passport with full sail.  It was a great combination and we sailed closely together all day and throughout the brilliantly starlit night. 

Someone Is Watching Us
On my watch in the wee small hours with only our small flotilla both in sight and on radar Balvenie was suddenly “illuminated”.  I immediately thought of sci-fi movies where the aliens swoop down and scoop up everything in their path then spirit it away to planets unknown, never to be seen again!  But luckily nothing quite so dramatic was happening.  I followed the immensely bright beam of a search light miles across to the horizon and then watched as it pinpointed and tracked the other two yachts close by.  I can only assume it was a distant Navy or Coastguard vessel and they were checking we were not fishing illegally or drug running boats, sure gave me a fright though.
PC180009Early Morning Wakeup Call
The pre dawn sky aroused my attention, the sky was lightening up but from the west and not from the east – and no we hadn’t turned around and were now heading in the wrong direction!!  Mark had joined me on watch as the wind had dropped and we were slopping about, the boom was banging and there was talk of shaking the reefs out and running with the full main.  As the sky lightened more we could see the cause of the reverse sunrise, an intensely heavy band of cloud had formed to the east and was heading our way.  A quick check on the radar showed rain with it so we started zipping in the windows, big mistake we should have furled in the headsail first as within seconds it hit. 
Balvenie 06
From 8 knots of wind to over 30 knots in a second, with just our double reefed main and full headsail we were still way overpowered.  For the first time since owning Balvenie we were laid over and rounded up, sails flogging, Mark was struggling with the immense power on the helm as I tried desperately to ease the mainsheet which we had a bungy wrapped round to act as a shock absorber in the rolly seas.  We managed to regain control and run with the wind for a few more minutes then it was over as quickly as it arrived.  The weather cleared and we had a good run all day in light winds until dusk when we were very weary of approaching squalls.  This time we were ready for them but they brought only rain and no wind, typical!

A Brief Pitstop in Vivorillos Cays
Around 8pm we were abeam of the small group of reefs and islands called the Vivorillos.  With 160 miles still to run to Guanaja we calculated that we would have a night time arrival there.PC190012  As Guanaja has outer reefs and surrounding shallows we did not want to arrive in the dark so ourselves and Samarang decided instead to anchor overnight in the protection of the reef at the Vivorillos.  Passport carried on.  It was a straightforward approach, we had a half moon glowing to light our way in and by 8.3pm it was anchor down, rum poured and passage meal bubbling away.

We listened to the morning weather forecast, hopeful that the low may have dissipated which would allow us to have time to spend and explore, but sadly no, we had 36 hours to get to Guanaja before winds increased and swells built to 3-4 metres.  So it was anchor up and off we went following Samarang and new joiner Moonsong from Alaska.

If Cruising were a Box of ChocolatesPC200048
The 25 hour run from Vivorillos to Guanaja would be one of those yummy strawberry cream centres covered in milk chocolate, absolutely my favourite.  We set the sails upon leaving and didn’t need to touch them until a mile out of Guanaja.  We had about 15 knots from behind, reasonably flat water, and the huge bonus was catching a beautiful Mahi Mahi.  The weather behaved, clear sunny skies all day and a spectacular starry sky, thankfully not a squall in sight.  We passed Samarang and shortly after we reigned in Moonsong too.  Then we heard Ajaya on the radio, they had left Providencia behind us but had sailed straight through.  We plotted their position and skippers goal was to catch them before sunset, once a racer – always a racer.  We waved at them at 5pm and on we went.
The Sweet Smell of Land
Dawn broke and I spotted Passport a little to the north of us, they had slowed down to arrive in daylight, we had preferred our option of a good nights sleep.  We both headed towards the reef entrance into Guanaja, the furthermost east island in the Bay Islands of Honduras chain, located around 20 miles north of the Honduran mainland.  As the sun rose higher in the sky we had good visibility to enter so in we went.  Since leaving Shelter Bay Marina in Panama this had been our first real goal for this seasons cruising.  There would be no more overnighters for a while, yippee!
Time to kick back and cruise!

For all the info on waypoints, anchoring, checking in/out etc to Providenica and more details on the passages click here to view our Cruising Info Blog then click on the left hand labels for Providencia and Honduras to get info on either

Friday, 14 December 2012

Providencia ~ A Pearl in the Caribbean ….. Dec 2012

08 – 14 Dec 2012:  Providencia, Colombia  13.22N 81.22W

Day 10 and Loving It
There was a good weather window during the weekend to head off further north, a couple of the boats left but we just couldn't bring ourselves to move on yet.  The anchorage here is comfortable, the company great, the snorkelling good, the people amazingly friendly, the town clean and sort of cute, the coastal walks interesting and the island a thousand shades of green.  Just the perfect spot to chill out, relax in the sun and put those last few weeks of hard work in Panama behind us,  so that is precisely what we are doing!

Exploring the Island, by foot and mule 
2012 Providencia 
There is an excellent coastal walk from town over onto adjacent Santa Catalina Isla, along the boardwalk and onto the colourfully signposted “Morgans’  Head” walk.  History is rich here of English buccaneer Henry Morgan, he roamed the Western Caribbean waters attacking Spanish galleons laden with their booty of gold and silver that they in turn had stolen from the Incas and other South American indigenous people.  Pirate Morgan spent a significant amount of time here, and we have visited Pirates Cove, Fort Bay and Morgans Head.

PC070046 PC120019

The standard of care and upkeep on this walk rivals anything our New Zealand Department of Conservation would do, we can only praise this little island for the effort the 5,000 or so locals are putting in to keep this lovely island in such a pristine and unspoilt state.
PC120005      PC120011

Yesterday we shared a “mule” with fellow cruisers Phil and Nicky off British Catamaran Ajaya.  Luckily the mules here have 4 wheels instead of 4 legs so the 4 of us fitted in fine.  It’s quite a small island so it was a leisurely day with plenty of long stops.
PC120009 PC120020
PC120023 PC120018

So we have seen all on offer on this sleepy island in the Western Caribbean.  There looks to be a favourable weather window developing early next week for us to travel the 180 miles north west, so we will take that and head for Honduras.
2012 Providencia-002 
Quite an interesting collection of Modern Art around the island
For all the info on waypoints, anchoring, checking in etc to Providenica and more details on the passages to and from click here to view our Cruising Info Blog

Monday, 10 December 2012

A Leisurely Start to the New Season ….. Dec 2012

01 – 07 Dec 2012:  Providencia, Colombia  13.22N 81.22W  PC070008

255 Miles “On the Nose”

After a very peaceful evening back in Portobelo we woke at dawn to clear skies and a light nor’easterly breeze.  The time had come to leave Panamanian waters and head north for the Caribbean Cruising Season.  Our intended destination – Isla Providencia, a group of small islands and reefs located off the Nicaraguan Coast north west of Panama and governed by Colombia, a mixture of Spanish and English speaking, Colombian and Afro Caribbean inhabitants ~ sounded quite a mixture really.PC030004

Our weather forecast was for light north to nor’easterly breezes and slight seas.  Experience tells us that forecasts can often be very wrong, this trip was to be “hard on the wind” so we really didn’t want anything more than 15 knots maximum.  With anchor stowed and sails hoisted we left the bay and headed out to sea.  We started with choppy seas until we were well clear of land then things calmed down and we had a comfortable  passage considering the whole time we were sailing as close to the wind as we could without stalling the sails.  Our British friends on Samarang had left the day before us from the San Blas and were having a horrible time, winds up to 25knots and very lumpy seas.  We kept thinking it would come to us but besides a few squalls, most of which we sailed around, it really wasn’t too bad.

How slow can we go?PC070010

Our biggest problem was the wind angle, and no matter how many times we adjusted course to pinch a extra degrees or two we just couldn’t lay our course without tacking.  So we slipped in 8 tacks, it is quite soul destroying when your target is around 335 degrees and you are sailing off pointing at 90 degrees, with strong current against and doing 2.5 knots over the ground, (I can walk faster than that) just so you can get back to a point where you can tack back again and vaguely point at the desired destination!!  At times we had huge pods of small dolphins playing with us, they had pink bellies that glistened as they showed off their somersault skills.  At night we had the full moon, almost bright enough to read by and such a bonus on 12 hour nights.  On our 2nd and 3rd nights before the moon rose a maze of stars glistened, the conditions were just beautiful.PC070017

We persevered with our tacking and after 2 nights at sea we had only covered 160 miles (in a straight line but we had sailed many more), quite possibly an all time low record for us but at day break on our 3rd day conditions improved and the wind kept moving to the east all morning, at last we could point above the island.  Around 10pm on our 3rd night we saw the loom of the southern lighthouse and finally after slowly motoring around the well lit seabuoy and down the straightforward entry channel at 1.30am under brilliant moonlight we dropped anchor in the bay.  Definitely time for a rum!   It may have taken 66 hours but after 4 months in the marina …

We had arrived in Paradise

For all the info on entry waypoints, anchoring, checking in etc to Providenica and more details on the passages to and from click here to view our Cruising Info Blog

Saturday, 1 December 2012

The Sun is Out and We are Off ….. Nov 2012

26 – 30 November 2012: Colon/Portobello, Panama
PA270089 And finally the Sun Shone – yeehah!

Many many years ago after 7 days and nights of rain Noah filled his arc up with the animals, two by two, and floated away.   This week after 7 days and nights of rain we didn't need to take such drastic measures - the rain did  actually stop, the sun came out, life returned to normal and the world became a much better place. 

We have had a very busy week with final preparations to leave for our next cruising season.  As soon as we got some dry weather we got the sails back on, scrubed another layer of green slime and mould off the cabin top and all the ropes, removed the canopy and dodger for more repairs and did 2 more runs to the supermarket and I have filled the lockers to overflowing.

Who’s a Birthday Boy then?
PB260014 PB260013
Somewhere in between all this Mark celebrated another year slipping by.  The rain stayed away for the evening and we had a pot luck pizza dinner onboard Balvenie , with Paul and Kate from Iolea, Sue and Andy from Spruce and Caroline and Bill off Juffa.  It is such a long time since we entertained in the cockpit it made for a great change and the new cockpit cushions were admired by all.  We also slipped in a couple of farewell get togethers, it has been a very social week, certainly great to have some fun after some very busy days.
PB180030Playing our ‘Get Out of Jail Free Card’

With a reasonable weather window opening up for our departure north Mark spent yesterday morning checking out then travelling into Colon to collect our SSB Radio.  At 6pm last night he had the radio and tuner all rewired and attached and we are very happy to report that it is all in working order.  This morning we said our final farewells, let the lines go, motored out into the bay, hoisted our sails, dodged a few ships, exited the breakwater and pointed our bow eastwards – straight into the wind!  Always to windward, but it was only about 12 – 15 knots and once away from the canal entrance the seas flattened out so we had a good sail avoiding a few rain squalls and have anchored the night back in Portobello

Tomorrow we head north – next stop Providencia, 250 miles away