Monday, November 23, 2015

Out of the Poacher and into the Paint-shaker: from Rio Dulce to the Bay Islands

18 NOV 2015
(Text-only posting since we are now outside of cheap cellular internet)

We flew into Guatemala City to get back to Cerca Trova and spent the night there prior to catching the Litegua “motorcoach” to the Rio. The bus fare was US$10 pp for a 7 hour ride in a comfy air conditioned highway bus. Not bad. Then we got out at Fronteras and the noise, the trucks, the crowds but no sidewalks, the humid heat, the threat of rain, the howler monkeys – ah yes, weeee're baaack!

It took us two weeks to get all our refitting and cleaning done. First task was to get the family car (dinghy) running so we could get supplies and socialize. I had left the outboard drained of gas with a solar trickle charger on the battery, and it started on the first try after refilling! The watermaker motherboard had died (as diagnosed by the Spectra tech over the phone) so I spent a quality day wedged on top of the water heater below the guest bunk cutting out the old board and rewiring the new one. Applied the “smoke test” and it ran! Installed a heavy duty check-valve in the port bilge pump line to keep heavy seas from pushing backwards through the bilge pump and filling the bilge. Jenn found a local canvas guy to build us a new helm-seat cushion set as the original 8 y/o material was crumbling. Then, as we ran the watermaker again, it popped the same fuse as the old one did that led to Tech Support diagnosing a bad motherboard. Turns out ..after all that, there is probably a bad solenoid valve and the motherboard was fine all along. So now we have a spare motherboard, but we don't have a spare solenoid valve :( . Sooo we'll get to Roatan without the watermaker. Went over every inch of the boat hunting for problems and found nothing major. Cleaned up some mildew that had appeared despite our running a dehumidifier all summer. And we had good fun with several seasoned couples at Monkey Bay. We now can play Mexican Train Dominoes, it's really fun. We saw a weather window coming so we topped up on provisions, said Hasta Luego to our many new friends there, and headed down river to hang with our friends Chris and Kelly (s/v Godzilla) in Texan Bay while we recalibrated to life off the dock.

We spent a week there, eating at Texas Mike's new place and finding leaks in the pouring rain. It rained we were in Texan Bay, and it rained continuously for three days. So, that solved the water problem, we just rigged a water bottle as a funnel, twisted on a garden hose and fed the water through a filter into our main tank. Refilled the tank in a few hours. And the rain made even the small leaks obvious. Ha, good to go! At least until things dry out enough that we can deal with the leaks. Kelly pointed out we could clear out just by dinking down to Livingston and having the cruiser services guy Raul Morales run our paperwork while the mothership was left parked in Texan Bay. Vastly more pleasant than having to anchor at Livingston's miserable exposed open roadstead anchorage. It worked like a charm and we got to have a great lunch at Bugamama's, the best and only Thai food on the river. Then blasted our way back up river (remember all that rain? Well it had turned the Rio into a muddy flotsam-filled rushing mess). But never ever set out cruising with a wimpy dinghy – ours we call The Kraken and it ate the river for lunch.

One last night with our good friends there, a really fun evening at Mike's place, and up early the next morning to prep for sea. I was unsure about a lot of things (driving CT through that mess of a river was one of them) but the weather looked as mild as it was going to get to push dead east to the Bay Islands. Another cruiser at Monkey Bay gave us her way points and explained that the middle section was a “potato patch”, really lumpy and rotten with weird currents. OOOOK, well that's where we had to go because Liam and Laura were booked to arrive in Roatan for Thanksgiving and we wanted to get there before then. So fired up the boat, up with the anchor and …. it all worked , except the autopilot wouldn't turn on; that would be the autopilot which had worked fine four days ago on the run to Texan Bay. Arrggh, back down with the anchor, tear into the electronics bay, call Furuno tech support, and run their tests, to no avail. So Chris (remember Chris of Texan Bay? He's the local A/C repair specialist) turned up, he bumped his launcha in to our boat and Shazaam!, the autopilot woke up. Up with the anchor one more time, invited Chris to come with us to Roatan so the autopilot knew it couldn't misbehave (he declined), and off we drove at 09:30, cruised past Livingston <happiness!> and set off across 120 miles of the Gulf of Honduras for the first Bay Island, Utila.

Oh, by the way, two serious acts of piracy on two yachts (of the several thousand that make the crossing every year) had occurred in the prior two years on the run to Utila, so we were a little nervous. But the in-coming swell was benign, no rain!, the wind was far enough north of east that we could carry some sail, a sweet tail current was giving us an extra two knots over the ground for free, and we were happy sailors. Until the potato patch.

You know what it feels like to be in a paint can on the shaker/mixer? Or maybe the rock inside the can being kicked down the road? Well, we didn't either but we do now. That had to have been the roughest conditions we have yet had to deal with. And the currents seemed to be directly against us, the “mild wind” forecast turned out to be 16-20 knots directly in our face, a 4-6 ft swell with the wind waves running at 45o from the swell, which all forcibly slowed the boat to only a knots of forward speed for forty miles of being thrown around. That forty miles took 10 hours to get across through the night. At least we didn't have to look at the churned up seas that were hitting our bridgedeck underneath so hard that everything that wasn't glued down went flying.

Despite being tossed around inside the boat and having to motor all the way, it was surprisingly straightforward for us. Maybe we're getting the hang of this!

And then dawn's early light arrived and the seas didn't look so bad, the head wind abated (but stayed directly on the nose despite our more southerly course to get to the harbor) and the head current had disappeared, and I sighted Utila at 07:00 on the early morning watch. We dropped the hook in Utila's East Harbor at 10:20, a mere 20 minutes later than my original navigation plan for the crossing. Sunny pretty day, nice breeze through the anchorage, Pete the Cruiser (had never met him!) popped over to tell us about how to clear in, which we did, and then we ran up the Honduras courtesy flag and had a beer. We made it.