1st - 6th December
We are keeping ourselves busy as we wait for our replacement wind indicator to arrive from UK. James spray painted the inside of the doghouse to give our 'entrance hallway' a bit of a lift, Claire has been busy with varnish to make sure Ocean Rainbow looks as good as the day we bought her. All our lines have been washed and freshened up, the rigging has been checked and rigging guard applied. Ocean Rainbow has had more polish on her hull and James has made her so shiny we don't need a mirror on board.
There was a great charity bash on Saturday at RAM marina. It's an annual event where the funds raised help to pay the education of children in Cayo Quemado which is the village where we stopped off on our way up the Rio Dulce in May. US$75 pays for one child's school supplies, tuition and uniforms for a year. It was a very good social event and hopefully loads of money raised. In the evening we went into town to eat 'street food' with Claudio and Janine so a super day.
We are exercising our brains on board. James finds Chinese chequers stretches his strategic planning skills and spanish lessons continue for Claire. Two hours of one to one tuition creates a big pile of homework! We think there is progress but it is hard work!! Actually getting to the lessons is exciting in itself as Claire travels to Morales, a larger town about 20miles south of Fronteras on the local bus. When the bus eventually arrives, Brenda (the teacher) picks her up - this week she arrived on a motorbike which was a bit of a surprise and it was certainly an adventure on the local streets. The market in Morales is stuffed full of stalls and there is a Maxi Dispensar which is a much larger version of the supermarket in Fronteras. Fun to browse but no need to make the bus trip to stock the boat, Fronteras has everything we need that is available in Guatemala.
We celebrated our 41st wedding anniversary at Mar Marine with another of Chef Debbie's excellent meals and in the company of fellow cruisers. Such a fun evening and we finished up on Ocean Rainbow with rum night-caps and a little sing song!
7th - 13th December
We have not been idle as we wait for our wind instrument to arrive. Ocean Rainbow's varnish has been touched up in the heads, galley and companionway so we are ready for the salt water environment again. It will be a real shock to find ourselves with salt everywhere after weeks of no rust on the stainless steel, no dried on salt on our 'go-faster' blue stripe and no salt crystals on the windows. Our cleaning workload will definitely increase the moment we leave the Rio!
We found we had a slow leak in the dinghy floor so James has been having fun with glue again. We have no idea how it happens but there is always something extra that gets glued as well as the intended item. This time it was the compass cover! Luckily no harm done and all returned to normal. A further Spanish lesson is under Claire's belt. Progress is being made but practice is what's needed now!
James has been improving his skills as an electrician. We took delivery of our replacement wind instrument on Saturday only to find that we had been sent the wrong unit! For info, an ST60 instead of an ST50. All sources say that the two units are interchangeable but no matter what wiring or configuration we tried we couldn't get it to work. We even tried the unit on another boat and it worked. We then tried an ST50 on our boat - borrowed from Oystergo - and that worked. The problem has to be with the wiring of the connectors but we can't find the fault for love nor money? So we went back to the internet and found another ST50, bought it and we have arranged for it to be brought out to Isla Mujeres, Mexico after Christmas with a guest arriving to visit Beyzano!! In the meantime, we have been playing sleuth to find out where our unit disappeared. It transpires that our unit is 'in country' but it will take another 2 days to reach us. Who knows if we will be able to get it to work as we have to wire it up (it comes without the connectors) so we're happy to have another one that we can collect without too much hassle. Although we never intended to go to Mexico and we certainly didn't want to be that far north before crossing to Cuba .... so we're keeping our fingers crossed the unit that is due to arrive tomorrow does the trick.
On the social front we have had a really lovely reunion with Arkouda (Sean and Cynthia) and Janine on Makani. Janine treated us to a fabulous Japanese style meal on board Makani showing off some of the culinary skills she learnt on her travels. We also had a great evening with Rob and Rhian on Beyzano. It's been rather sad to wave goodbye to everyone as they have left the Rio and this morning was no exception as Beyzano weighed anchor. We are definitely feeling lonely!!
14th - 20th December
The ongoing saga of our spare part - the wind unit arrived but without connectors. The package had been opened by the Mixco guys and the parts separated. Another day to wait as Steve Trott brought the connecting wires in his car! When we finally took delivery of the connectors we discovered that the wiring done by the 'so-called' Raymarine expert in Shell Bay, Mike Church, was wrong. One wire had been switched. Although we had checked and re-checked the connectivity we just hadn't seen the mismatch in male/female connectors earlier. Finally the instrument was working - and, in fact, all the other instruments would probably have worked too had we seen the 'expert's' mistake! The only irritation now is that although we have wind speed we don't have direction all the time. We are pretty sure that the error lies in the transducer that the 'expert' sold us!!! We're going to do without - we're moving on and will just sail like the ancient mariners using tell-tales and the wind in our face to make our decisions on a sail plan. Night sailing was really the only reason we had waited for parts as changing sail in the night without instruments is very much harder - we shall just sail even more conservatively than before to try and avoid any sail changes at night. Roger Day came on board and did the final soldering and heat sealing for us. We just need to be absolutely sure that the job was finished off properly although, in all honesty, Claire reckons James' skills in that department are excellent and he needn't have paid an electrician but we are now confident that if the instrument fails it won't be because the soldering wasn't up to scratch!
So, finally, having taken Roger ashore, we made ready for sea and weighed anchor at 3pm heading for Texan Bay. A lovely gentle motor-sail down the river giving us time to take everything in as we bade farewell to the peaceful and very beautiful Rio Dulce.
An early start the next day to head for Livingstone and check out. It was an easy process, if a little lengthy but the Port Captain was charm personified and spoke excellent English after testing and complimenting us on our Spanish skills! We paid Q150 dues and went off to Immigration where, after a payment of Q160, we had our ships papers signed off and went to Customs for our paperwork to be closed as we were leaving and not coming back. A strange feeling to be leaving after such a long time but very exciting to know we are finally on our way to new countries and sights.
We had some lovely weather for sailing. Our first night we went to South Moho Cays - just because it was within reach and we knew our way in and out of the anchorage - the next night we spent at Wilson Cay. What a gem of an island with a golden sandy beach, palm trees and not a person in sight. We were visited by very noisy dolphins who splashed and snorted as they caught fish and larked around. We woke to beautiful skies and were sorely tempted to stay another day but the weather was threatening to close in again so we reluctantly weighed anchor and headed for Placencia. Another great sail and lovely to arrive in the anchorage to find Harmonie, Telefine, Makani and Moody Mistress already there.
On Monday James went to check in with Moody Mistress - a bit of a long and very expensive process!! BZD 90 for Immigration, 130 for Port Fees, 50 for Health and 5 for water taxis making a total of £130. We are booked in until the 27th and if we stay longer we shall have to pay more for each day and we have to pay to exit. You can see why some yachties decide to 'pass through' rather than officially visit. While James was ashore Claire was busy in the galley preparing a birthday tea party! Birthday cake, biscuits, sandwiches and sausages but no jelly and ice cream - far too hot for them to survive - all ready for a traditional style tea party for our international friends. We had great fun even if we were a little cramped as the heavens opened sending us all scuttling down below into the dry. Lots of candles were blown out thanks to the additional space available on the cake that Telefine baked for Claire! It was a Two Cake Birthday and certainly one to remember.
No sooner was the birthday over than we packed away the birthday banners and put out the Christmas ones. Our little tree was refreshed, had its lights put on and took up pride of place on the saloon table during the day and under the doghouse at night. However, each time we go sailing the little tree gets moved to its 'safe sailing position'!!
On Tuesday we had hoped to move on but the weather wasn't looking good so we stayed and James made the most of the extra time in Placencia by getting out his bike and cycling off to the Sunsail base at the other end of town to see if they could sell us a spare sail baton. We had incorrectly closed the baton pockets when we put the batons in the main sail at the beginning of the season and whilst putting in two reefs in very blowy conditions two of the batons flew out!!! We had one spare but needed to source the second one. After a mammoth bike ride in torrential rain James was successful and Sunsail donated a baton! Great result.
21st - 28th December
Off again. We bade a sad farewell to Moody Mistress who decided not to sail further north. We have had some really lovely times together since meeting 14 months ago in Trinidad and we shall miss their company. We weighed anchor early and set off for Lagoon Cays to meet up with Telefine. Enrico is an amazing fisherman and he donated a wonderful bonito to our food supplies. It's like a mini tuna and just such a tasty, meaty fish which we ate the following day as that evening we shared a pizza supper with Makani on OR.
The weather hasn't been conducive to swimming and we haven't had reefs to snorkel over which is a good thing as Claire has been off swimming since the 19th. One of the birthday presents she gave herself was a little burn on her right hand!! Not very clever and it's taken its time to heal but it is now looking good thanks to tea tree oil and flammazine.
Still attempting to get to Cay Caulker for Christmas we set off north in the morning but the wind was really light so we headed into Blue Ground Range instead and spent the night there. We had torrential rain and managed to fill our water tanks to capacity! The up-side of bad weather! The next morning we set off again and this time we had a cracking sail and made it all the way up to Hutson Cay which we've never visited before. It's a rather lovely little resort island that is marketed under the name of Waterfront Cay. Had we stayed longer we would have gone ashore one evening to have sundowners on their terrace over the water, as it was we only stayed two nights so there wasn't time.
We celebrated Christmas Eve this year as the British tradition of celebrating on Christmas Day was outnumbered by our European friends' tradition. It was a very special evening on board the beautifully decorated Harmonie. We all assembled at 6pm armed with our goodies. Puddle was definitely feeling the strain when we'd finally loaded everything to take over!!! Enrico managed to catch 6 lobster, 1 Octopus and 10 conch for the meal. We didn't manage to eat all the conch so some of the curry that Claire prepared was eaten the next day. For the Christmas meal itself we had conch fritters, hummus, bread with carrot and pumpkin as well as delicious sour cream and onion crispbreads as appetisers. All so yummy we could have had a whole meal on starters alone! Then followed the salads; octopus salad, beetroot salad and rice salad. This was followed by the roasted vegetables, baked potatoes and lobster with garlic butter. Small wonder that there was very little room left for the French speciality pudding of rice with salted butter caramel and the very British mincemeat with brandy butter. We also had special Argentinian cookies made with caramel condensed milk, lebkuchen and a traditional English Christmas cake.
To work off our excesses we danced a little and we sang a lot! We started with carols in two languages and then moved on to some popular songs that everyone knew. All very good fun. Then we rounded off the evening exchanging presents - all of which were homemade and wonderful. A very special Christmas indeed.
Christmas Day we actually went sailing again but not until we'd opened our stocking. Father Christmas is so clever to find us and this year he filled our stocking with some great little surprises. We had thought we would stay another day but the weather looked brilliant for a days sailing so we all weighed anchor and headed off to Robinsons Cay. It was a lovely day and we managed to sail right into the mangrove bay before we had to drop the sails. That evening Harmonie came over to join us for conch curry. The other two boats either had their own left overs or were just not into yet more conch!! Actually, conch curry is a truly delicious way to eat this rubbery little mollusc. Just make sure you bash it with a hammer for at least half an hour and then pressure cook it for another 30 minutes .... that is, if you can even get the little perisher out of the shell!!! It took Denis and Enrico 2 hours to open 10 conch! The locals open one in less than a minute!!! It pays to have a machete to hand.
On Boxing Day we set off again but this time we got caught in a nasty squall with thunder and lightning all around. A great sail but not very nice conditions to say the least and we were very cold by the time we arrived in Drowned Cays - what an appropriate name!! Then we had another disaster!! We've only just recovered from the mental stress of the broken wind instrument and then the windlass breaks. As James prepared the anchor by dropping it off the bow with a short burst on the windlass control the motor went berserk and started dumping all the chain. Luckily James was able to take the chain off the gypsy and secure it before rushing back to turn off the circuit breaker.
Two hours later, and with a little help from Saint Claudio (who should perhaps be nominated for Pope next time around), the control box for the windlass was back in place, the control switches all cleaned up and no longer so covered in carbon that they stuck together!, springs back in the right place and everything looking as good as new. Yet another electrical skill added to James' CV.
Tuesday 27th we weighed anchor again and headed for Cay Caulker. Another wonderful sail through the mangroves off Belize City up through the shallows of Porto Stuck and on to Chapel Cay and then Cay Caulker. At times we were sailing at 5-6 knots with only 30 cm below the keel but as we were following the route we used in April we were fairly confident we wouldn't touch bottom! It was great to arrive in the anchorage with the sun shining and to find only 3 other yachts. The town itself is full of holiday makers but we are definitely not crowded at anchor! We plan to see in the New Year here and then who knows .... the winds look good for Cuba on the 1st January so we are hoping we might be able to move on then.
28th - 31st December
Oh my goodness (a favourite Claudio expression) is there anything else that can go wrong on Ocean Rainbow? The GPS signal linked to the VHF radio has packed up - well it is intermittent! And the stereo radio speakers have all stopped sending music through the boat!! Some loose wires somewhere but where?! We've tried everything and have now given up and have made alternative arrangements. Kim El Song is our answer to the speaker problem ... it a strange looking mini tower speaker with flashing lights (if you don't find the off switch in time) that was made in Korea judging by Kim El Song's voice at start up - "the blue tooth device is connected successfully" or the alternative "the blue tooth device is all to hell"! It makes us laugh each time we hear it. Someone had a sense of humour when they told the Korean lady the phrase she should use.
After all our recent equipment failures we have decided that the time has come to upgrade all Ocean Rainbow's electronics so we will be deviating from our planned route and stopping off in St Maarten to buy new everything!!! One other problem, Claire's laptop no longer functions as expected and we can't use it to download weather via the satellite phone. We know what is wrong but until we can find the chap who changed the coding ... and even St Claudio is stumped!! We were trying to connect an NMEA cable from the boat's GPS to the laptop so that the boat's position would show on the extra digital charts (Open CPN) we have for Cuba. Unfortunately this didn't work - which isn't so much of a problem, it's the fact that all the changes made to the computer while trying to link the NMEA cable weren't reversed by our super-helpful friend, who suggested it was all so easy and so all the settings have not been reverted to normal!!!
Depression did set in but we soon recovered after a visit to Telefine where we shared Christmas cake with everyone and were treated to apple crumble and cappuccino .... and Ti-punch. A lovely evening. We are still going to Cuba because that is where the wind is sending us - and the chap who modified the computer is there too (somewhere) so all the more reason to go and find him!!!! Our solution to the weather problem has been solved by Andrew (youngest son) who has taken on the role of Ocean Rainbow's weather guru! He's downloading the grib files and will send us a daily report via the satellite phone. So we're all stocked up, checked out (and that was another long drawn out process, left for San Pedro at 0900 and returned a 1330; BZD 29 for water taxi, 40 per person check out fees) and ready to start 2017 with a whole new adventure.
Happy New Year from all on board Ocean Rainbow.