RTW March 2016

St David’s Day – 7th March

We raised the big welsh flag, toasted St David with tea (!) and then got on with the day which was a mad whirl of activity from last minute washing, shopping, cleaning, filling water tanks and cooking for a passage.   No time to make welsh cakes!    Very bad planning indeed!   At 5.30 we went for final sundowners on Tignanello as Willem and Remco have decided to go through the Canal and into the Pacific.

On Wednesday morning we left the marina with Makani and Horizons for a two night passage to San Andres.  This time we managed to leave the supertankers well off our bow and had a good passage until the second day when the wind dropped in the afternoon.  We went swimming, we read our books, we even contemplated whistling but still no wind.  Eventually a light breeze came back and we continued on our way until the early hours of the morning when we were left becalmed again and decided to resort to Victor Volvo and motor the last 10 miles to the outer buoy at San Andres.   There we were met by a Pilot boat and escorted to our anchorage.   We are extremely secure here with the Navy patrolling the anchorage 24/7 – we are also famous in a very small way as the Suzie Too Rally is the first Rally ever to stop in San Andres.  The town put on a really warm welcome for us with drinks, a selection of local food, music and dancing.  There’s also been a lot of press coverage with TV and radio interviews – none of which we can understand fully as it’s in Spanish!   Our language skills are improving very, very slowly which is somewhat frustrating but we will get there eventually.

We have wandered around the town which is a mix of Santa Marta and Aruba.  There are cheap clothes shops, smart duty free shops and good fruit and veg.  However, there isn’t too much in the way of culture!    We had a picnic at Cotton Cay on Sunday – the beach was a far cry from the San Blas islands but we did have a wonderful swim with rays.    The island was absolutely rammed with holidaying Colombians who arrived in boats from San Andres.  The beaches in San Andres were pretty full too – reminiscent of the beach at Santa Marta.  But it was a good picnic without sand as we ate it in the dinghy!!

The official welcome party was on Sunday evening when we were treated to a sample of island food, music, dancing and a drink!   The Deputy VP of Tourism made a nice speech and we all received certificates of welcome.   A lovely evening courtesy of San Andres.

On Monday, we took to the roads as a group on scooters and toured the island.  It is such fun to drive along with the wind in your hair on roads that are not bumper to bumper with cars (totally forgot to take a picture of ourselves but you can get the idea from Makani!).   Scooters are the favoured mode of transport on the island – a small scale version of our experience in Vietnam.    Even crossing the road was done in similar style – you choose your moment and just walk across confidently, everyone will avoid you!   That’s the principle and it’s worked so far.

We drove along every road on the island – up and down Orange Hill, Pepper Hill, Shingles Hill, along the coast road, past the Botanical Gardens (very small) and popped in to see a horse driven sugar cane press.   We visited Henry Morgan’s Cave, visited a blow hole that wasn’t blowing because the conditions were too calm, swam in crystal clear waters, had lunch in a Rasta Restaurant by the lagoon, visited the oldest building on the island (Baptist Church built in 1898 and closed!)  and bought new shorts for James and a sarong for Claire … that just about sums up San Andres but it’s been well worth the visit and the welcome from the local people has been just great, we have really enjoyed our time here.

We are now planning our trip to Providencia which is supposed to be far less crowded and much more similar to the San Blas islands.

8th – 13th March

Another week has flown past.  We left the anchorage at San Andres on Tuesday afternoon and motored two miles to the outer sea buoy where we anchored for the night in really rolly conditions.  Not ideal but it meant we could set off at first light on Wednesday without worrying about bad light and not spotting the reefs.   The winds on Wednesday were absolutely brilliant and we were able to sail close hauled all the way to Providencia.   Arriving in the early afternoon we made our way through the reefs to Alligator Point where we anchored for the night.  Makani came in a little later than us (that’s a first!!).  Normally Makani are rather faster but catamarans are not very good sailing close to the wind so Ocean Rainbow led the way.     We spent a very quiet evening at anchor and the next morning we were just sitting down to a leisurely breakfast when our peace was shattered by a loud claxon.  We tried to ignore it but after the 3rd hoot we took a look over the dodgers to find there was a coastguard vessel alongside Makani.   Whoops, we hadn’t got our radio on dual watch so hadn’t heard their calls on Channel 16.   It turns out that Agent Bush had come out with the coast guard to find us and tell us to move to the main anchorage where he could keep an eye on us!     Providencia, like San Andres, has never had a Rally visit and Agent Bush was very anxious that nothing untoward should happen to us!     In San Andres we had Agent Julian Watson (and that’s how he announced himself on the radio each time!) looking after us – we called him Special Agent – and now we have Agent Bush.

 

Once anchored in the shallow bay off Providencia town we went ashore and checked in.   It’s a pretty little town with colourful fencing, houses and shops.  There’s even a hospital.   The shops are adequately stocked and fresh fruit and veg are delivered every week by boat.   The preferred language here is English but the locals appear to be fluent in Spanish too.  We arranged to hire scooters for Saturday and the rest of our time ashore was spent trying to organise WiFi communications so that we wouldn’t be reliant on the satellite phone to hear news of the arrival of our expected grandchild.   We were eventually successful and now have a great hotspot on the boat with excellent WiFi first thing in the morning our time – lunchtime in UK.

Rory Frederick Hedley Short arrived on 10th March at 10.31am weighing 7lbs 1oz.   We are totally thrilled for Edward and Verity especially after the sadness of Barnaby’s stillbirth last year.   Now we await news that Rory and Verity are deemed fit and well enough to return home and we’re looking forward to receiving lots of photos of Rory (not so easy to take a good photo of your son when he is wired up in the neo-natal unit).

 

We investigated the little island of Santa Catalina on Friday.   Either the Swan family are very big on the island or someone has a complete fetish for Swans as we saw a boat named Swan, swans incorporated into the boundary wall of one of the houses and swan shaped plant holders adorning the lawns of another house.   Old tyres are put to good use here as ornaments – they hang from verandas as parrots, spiders etc and sit in gardens as pretty painted cachepots.

Santa Catalina is famous as the burial ground of Henry Morgan.  Apparently the islanders were so determined that Morgan should remain dead and buried they built a statue of the Virgin Mary over his grave!   Years later an archaeologist found human remains near the site and it is now thought that the locals sited the statue in the wrong place!   We had a lovely walk along the path to Morgan’s Head and enjoyed a quick swim too – no treasure found though.   The waters here are really blue but as the island is volcanic the sun’s reflection in the water doesn’t produce such a variety of colours as we found on San Andres which is a coral atoll.   It is still stunning though.

On Saturday we hired scooters and, together with Makani and Moody Mistress, we toured the island.   We really could have done the loop in less than an hour but by stopping at every single tourist attraction to view the scenery, dropping into Roland’s Rasta bar for a cool drink, stopping at Café Studio for a leisurely lunch and then driving onto the beach in Freshwater Bay to go for a swim we managed to spin the trip out into 6 hours!  And what’s more, the scooter hire was half the price we paid in San Andres …  guess that’s about right as the island is half the size!!

14th – 21st March

On Sunday the rest of the OCC Rally started arriving in the anchorage in Providencia and on Monday we had a Welcome Party organised by Agent Bush and hosted by the island.   There was a presentation for Suzanne – as the Rally organiser of the first Rally ever to visit the island (just like San Andres) and every boat was given a Colombian Cruising Guide as a present, together with a key ring, notebook and information booklet about the island.   We then had a few speeches, some local music and a demonstration of the local dancing.    It was a lovely evening which we rounded off with an excellent supper at Miss Lucy’s Restaurant.  It was so good we went there on the following night for a final meal before leaving the island for Honduras.

The highlight of our snorkelling in Providencia was finding Morgan’s Cave.   The entrance to the cave is hidden under the water so it was only good fortune that we spotted someone coming out of the cave and knew where to look.   Sadly no hidden treasure but it was fun to dive under the water and disappear.   The waters were a beautiful colour and the clarity of the water around the islands off the northern end of Santa Catalina was wonderful, the fish were big and fat but we didn’t see anything we hadn’t seen before.  However, the divers in the rally did have a magical time swimming with reef sharks.

Miss Lucy Passage and guanaja 001Ever mindful of the weather and the requirement of wind for sailing, we left Providencia for the 3 day sail to Honduras on Wednesday 16th.   There had been some reports of attacks on boats along this route so we travelled in a group with Alembic (Helen and Bill), Carati (Pierre and Anne Marie) and Makani.    Needless to say it was an uneventful trip from that point of view as we only saw one fishing boat and two cargo vessels in the 3 days.   However, we did see some wind!   Day One we had good winds and made excellent progress covering 138nm.  Day Two wasn’t so good and we only managed 114 nm as we had a long period with minimal wind – we actually went swimming – but it did give us the opportunity to fly the cruising chute.  The first time we have had it up for longer than 30 minutes since crossing the Atlantic!    In the evening the wind started to blow a little more so we dropped the chute and continued with a reefed main and poled out yankee.   On Day Three we had 16 knots of wind at 0900, 22knots by midday and 25 knots by 1500hrs.   It was at this stage that James caught his biggest ever fish – a beautiful Mahi Mahi.   It took a fair amount of effort to reel in, especially as we were travelling at speed; then the performance of cleaning, gutting and chopping the fish took time so it was almost 5pm before we were cleared up.  The next thing was a call from Bill who had picked up a weather forecast from Chris Parker (Caribbean wind guru) which warned of stronger winds in the night so we dropped our main and sailed with a reefed yankee only.   As the night progressed so the yankee decreased in size until we had just a pocket handkerchief out with the winds blowing anything from 30 to 44 knots, until 0500 when everything started to calm down again.    We had a couple of very big waves come into the cockpit leaving us totally soaked and splashing around until the water drained out … mind you, it meant that any residual blood from our Mahi Mahi was definitely washed away!    With the waves crashing into the side of the boat and the crazy rocking and rolling motion, we didn’t manage to get much sleep so we were very relieved to finally spot land and our destination.

Guanaja is an amazing little island 70km off the coast of Honduras.  The main town on its own island reminds us of Venice with small canals and houses built on stilts.  Every single inch of the island is built upon and resembles an Alice in Wonderland maze with alleyways in all different directions.   Even the locals recognise that they live in a rabbit warren as there are signposts all over the island to tell you which way to run in an emergency!    This island is also called Bonnaca (Low Cay) to differentiate it from the bigger island of Guanaja but all our charts show it as Guanaja so we spent a little while feeling quite confused!    Having completed immigration and customs formalities we moved from the anchorage off the town to a bay 1nm north called El Bight.   There are reefs all around so we were cautious but visibility was good and there are ‘withy sticks’ planted to show the edges of the reefs so that also helped.  Once anchored we managed to stay awake until 8.30pm before collapsing into bed and sleeping through to 7am the next morning – James’ birthday!

 

Guanaja and El Bight 023Birthday Boy 002What a lovely place to spend your birthday.   The bay is surrounded by lush vegetation and a few houses.  It is peaceful, the water is clear and there is some lovely snorkelling.   We went exploring in the dinghy and found Rene’s little shop in the basement of one of the houses – he also offered to sell us some land for US$50,000!   We went out to Dunbar Island which has been completely covered by a monstrous white hotel.    Once inside the hotel it is really rather lovely but from the outside it is a real eyesore.    Then we went to Maniti which is a really atmospheric restaurant run by a German couple (Annette and Claus), where we had a cold drink and Annette told us all about the area.    From there we moved off to check out the furthest point of the bay and in so doing James met up with ’Lee’ who is busy building guest villas to compliment his rather superior restaurant ‘Casa Grande’.   Apparently, years ago Lee went into partnership with Lord Tennant and built the rather exclusive resort at The Pitons on St Lucia which he sold for a small fortune.  Now he is developing Guanaja which is like St Lucia 30 years ago.     There are no roads here, you either walk or go by boat!    Further round the bay there is a little place selling Pizzas where you can also get fresh water and up in the hills there is Hans’ place which has a restaurant and guest house.    Plenty of choice for eating out.    We returned to the boat for lunch and then after lunch James was taken off by Alembic for some snorkelling while Claire prepared Ocean Rainbow for a party.

The birthday flags all went up, the saloon was made ready and the food preparation was completed.   When James returned there was time for a cuppa before we got ready for the evening.    Bill and Helen came to pick us up, then collected Makani and we went ashore to Maniti where James tried out the German Weiss beer and declared it delicious.   Then it was back to OR for a lovely evening.    Appetisers, mahi mahi goujons, lasagne, salad, garlic bread and banana chocolate cake all disappeared over a period of time together with a little wine and the odd tot of rum!   We played ‘ibble dibble’ and had a very merry evening.  Definitely a good birthday.

On Monday we went back to Guanaja town with Makani in their dinghy for a bit of an explore and then it was a dash back to our boats in the driving rain and wind as the predicted front came through.   The rain didn’t stop all day.   Miserable weather really but great for catching up on a few things.   And below ….. some photos that will bring a smile to everyone’s face.

 

22nd – 27th March

On Monday we were greeted with torrential rain on Guanaja.   We filled all our buckets and containers, scrubbed off our canvas and generally made the most of copious amounts of fresh water.   Once the rain stopped we went snorkelling with Alembic (Bill and Helen) to the outer reef and had a wonderful time.  Probably the best coral we have seen,  we could even swim through coral channels which was fabulous.   In the evening we went ashore and joined all the OCC Rally boats from the anchorage for an amazingly delicious roast chicken supper.   Extremely generous portions accompanied by lovely German beer or crisp white wine.    It was a really pretty setting with humming birds flying around and later in the evening the bats arrived in time to eat all the midges.     Unfortunately, however, the main island of Guanaja is home to a lot of biting insects.  Apparently the reason Boccaca (originally two little islands which are now joined together by a myriad of buildings that bridge the gap) is so heavily populated and people don’t move out to the green, lush forest is because it is free of mosquitoes!   Ah ha!  Now they tell us!

 

Tuesday we had torrential rain again.  We did go snorkelling but it was cold and it took ages to warm up afterwards.   James really rugged up down below with a hot cuppa!  On Wednesday, once the morning deluge had stopped we joined forces with OCC Rallyers and made a dinghy trip up the cut past the airport to the other side of Guanaja where we had been told about a waterfall that was a short walk through the forest.   The trip up through the mangrove swamp was a little dull as it had recently been dredged and is very obviously a main thoroughfare for water taxis and fishing boats.   Once on the other side we had a nice ride up the coast with some lovely sandy beaches but we failed to find the waterfall.   Instead we all jumped out at a river, had a bit of a chat, declared the snorkelling too cloudy and not interesting and headed back home!   Nice to have had a look at the northwestern side but we were definitely in the best anchorage.   That evening we went up to Casa Too and had a sundowner overlooking the bay.  Spectacular views which will be even better when the cargo ship in dock for repairs finally moves off!

 

Thursday morning we moved on to Roatan as there was a break in the weather and we had a great sail without any rain and with enough wind, but not too much!     We are now anchored in French Harbour and it is here that we caught up with Suzie Too and the rest of the Rally boats.   It’s good to see everyone and we enjoyed chatting over a beer at Frenchy’s Restaurant.    However, when we came home and were lifting the dinghy for the night we realised that Ocean Rainbow was on the move!    Our anchor was dragging in the high winds.    A real nuisance as dusk was approaching and we had to find another location to drop our ‘hook’ in an anchorage that is known for being tricky.   We finally found a spot where the anchor held and we were able to put out all our chain (50m in 2m of water) and that is where we stayed.   We secured the dinghy to the deck, rolled back the bimini to reduce windage and set our anchor alarm.   The winds blew up to 35 knots during the night which meant we had a really rolly, bumpy time and we were awakened often by the unusual motion of Ocean Rainbow as well as by our own anxiety to check that we hadn’t moved.   Very glad to report that we have stayed safe so far but we have been on board for the last 3 nights as the winds have been in excess of 30 knots every night.    A shame as there have been a number of evening activities ashore, including a music session, which we have missed.

 

Moving around here in a dinghy is reminiscent of Curacao.  We go downwind with clothes on and travel upwind in swimwear.   You can imagine the shenanigans we go through to strip off or dress up on the dock without embarrassing the locals too much!     On Friday morning we went into the local town with Makani for an exploration.   Most shops were shut as it was Good Friday but we did get a feel for the village and we had a delicious early lunch which set us up for the rest of the day.   In the afternoon we snorkelled in the Marine Park with Makani and saw some enormous tarpon but still no sharks!   We did manage to get ashore on Friday for a couple of hours to enjoy an amazing fish kebab BBQ.  We stopped off at Bla Elinor (Asa and Dan) on the way for a sundowner and then we gathered with everyone at Tiki Palapo to enjoy swordfish and tuna kebabs courtesy of Milpat and Bla Elinor.   Patrick (Milpat) had caught a 5ft swordfish on passage from Providencia to Roatan and Milena, his wife, then spent 3 hours preparing the fish and freezing it.   If that wasn’t enough, on Friday afternoon, she then prepared 150 kebabs for the BBQ with a little help from Edith on Harmonie.    500 cubes of fish + 150 kebabs = BBQ for 30 people!

On Saturday we had an abortive attempt to go on a scooter tour of the island.  Our scooter failed to turn up so instead we spent a couple of hours chasing around in a taxi looking for a supplier who could provide 10 scooters for the group.   We did succeed – we think – but the proof will be on Monday when we are all supposed to meet up and tour the eastern end of the island.   In the afternoon Claire went on a snorkelling expedition with the group (12) to dive a sunken wreck on the outer reef but the seas were so rough and the current so strong that by the time the group got to the edge of the reef it was down to 5!   The bottom was so churned up and the visibility was really poor so we decided that we’d give up and go back to the bar for a beer!  Still it was a great work-out to push against the current and it was fun to snorkel with Bill and Helen who played a ridiculous porpoise game swimming upside down.  Sadly the photos didn’t work …. But it was a giggle.

 

Easter Sunday started very dramatically with a Mayday call from s/y Endless who had lost their engine just as they entered the channel through the reef into French Harbour.   As we were at the back of the anchorage we could clearly see them and realised they were heading for the reef and were just about to call them when they sent their Mayday.   The local cruisers net here is VHF Channel 71 and most people do not have Ch.16 on during the night as it is too disruptive so we called up on Ch.71 to alert folk and within minutes 3 dinghies were launched to go out and see what they could do to help.  The seas were far too big for the dinghies (even with 15hp engines) to do anything constructive than reassure the crew but a local water taxi was able to get a line onto them and tow them a little way so that they could drop an anchor and wait for a vessel with an even more powerful engine to tow them into the anchorage.    It all ended well all things considered.   The yacht does not appear to have been unduly damaged and the engine can be fixed (the saildrive separated from the gearbox, similar to what happened to us on Heron, and we know it happens without warning) but when we met up with the young crew later in the morning it was clear that they had had a terrifying experience.

We had planned to go to a local church with Bill and Helen.   We were told to meet at 9am so Bill and Helen picked us up in their dinghy and we went to Miss Alice’s dinghy dock where we met two other couples and walked up the hill to church.    Then the surprise, church didn’t start until 10.30am so were were an hour and a half too early!   Normally it wouldn’t matter but we had arranged to get together with all the other Rallyers for an Easter Beach Party and Lunch and our transport was meeting us at 11am.    That put a spoke in our plans so we had a rethink and decided to dinghy back to Ocean Rainbow, choose a whole pile of favourite hymns and have a little service ourselves.   It worked really well and we were able to sing and have a lovely service and still get ashore in time to meet our transport.   Guess what, the transport was an hour and a half late in arriving!!   Ne’er mind, we still managed to catch up with the Rallyers in time for lunch at ‘Paradise Beach’ where we had seafood soup – a speciality of the island – that is served with a side dish of rice and is truly delicious.  Well worth the trip down south even if we missed the swimming and snorkelling!    And, just for information, if the wind is blowing Fantasy Island is not well protected but we could have anchored in West End and had a very relaxed time!!

28th – 31st March

Monday we had enormous fun.  James had organised the hire of 8 scooters.  They were all matching which, combined with our retro helmets, turned us into the Suzie 2 Chapel – or should that be Chappell as in Suzanne and David’s surname!   We rode up the eastern side of the island to Punta Gorda which is geared to cruise ship visitors with tables of local handicrafts for sale and a hut in which the visitors could sit and watch some tribal dancing.   We had a look around – wondered about the heavily armed guard outside the local store – and then headed off on a dirt track for 8km to a restaurant (La Sirena) that had been highly recommended.  It was worth the ride as the scenery was spectacular but next time we’ll hire a car to make the trip.   We then set off to Oakridge for a quick look – a fishing village with a little shop, bar and friendly people.   From there we set off for Jacksonville but, faced with another 5km dirt track we decided to call it a day and head for home.    A wise decision as we arrived just in time to hand back our scooters and hop into a big Dodge for our ride back to Fantasy Island in time for the ‘Welcome party’ hosted by the Dockmaster and his wife.   We weren’t full complement on boats as 3 boats were still in Guanaja and 2 boats were making their way direct to Belize but it was fun to catch up with the French contingent who had all arrived in force at lunchtime.

 

Supper ashore

On Tuesday morning we set off for Utila in company with Alembic and Arkouda.    What a great little island.  Really whacky with lots of backpacker types wandering along the street in search of the best diving deal.   The smell of whaccy baccy is quite strong everywhere you go which probably accounts for the very laid back attitude of everyone we met!   We managed to get our laundry done, ate out in a local restaurant and had delicious prawns, wandered the town, had sundowners with Alembic, shared a BBQ on Arkouda, snorkelled the reef closest to Ocean Rainbow and saw reef sharks.  So close we could almost touch them.    Then it was time to move on again … the wind was changing and if we were to sail the next leg of the passage we had to get a move on.

We checked out on Thursday intending to sail on Friday morning but after a further study of the wind trends the decision was made to sail overnight.   It was quite scary leaving the anchorage in the dark and negotiating our way through the reefs in to the clear water.  Luckily we had our ‘entry’ track which we could follow out but then we had to cover new ground and avoid a number of shoals and reefs on the way to West Point when we could free up and sail across to Glover’s Reef, Belize.   It was not a nice passage.   We had lovely wind until midnight and then we gradually slowed down as the wind faded.  It is not comfortable sailing downwind with the sails flapping and banging as we roll around in lumpy seas.  We were on the foredeck at 1am trying to minimise the flapping and banging of sails by dropping the main and putting out the spinnaker pole with a full yankee.  It was better but so slow.   In the end, at 7am, we resorted to engine power and had to motor for 4 hours until we reached Glover’s Reef.  Alembic was already safely tucked inside the reef so we had the benefit of some waypoints from them to ensure that we had a clear passage into the anchorage.   And so starts the beginning of another month …..