We travelled back from Sumpango on the 1st after an amazing time at the Kite Festival (all details on the Oct 2016 page). After a good night’s sleep it was back to work with a vengeance. Martin and Lisette Maille arrived first thing in the morning on the 2nd and began work on strengthening our gantry to take the extra weight of the new solar panel, which we’d bought from Solar Solaris one of the local shops run by a resident american. Martin’s answer to stiffening the gantry was simple – but expensive! Welding does not come cheap, especially when the welder comes to your boat and he uses high grade material. The job was done in a morning and Lisette did a great job of clearing up all the metal filings and she did the polishing as well as shielding Martin from the wind while he used the laser. However, as far as we are concerned, the best job of all was Martin’s ingenious method of attaching the Tiller Pilot to the pushpit of OR. It is just so neat. We’ve tested it on dry land and we will shortly have a chance to use it in the water. If it works as expected we will have the neatest mounting bracket ever for a Tiller Pilot.
Stocking the boat has now begun in earnest. We take on the form of human pack horses and load the stuff in our backpacks and then practice weight lifting until we get back to the dinghy. It doesn’t get any easier no matter how many times we do it! Still it does mean we are nearer to getting back in the water and resuming our sailing adventure but it has been fun to explore this amazing country by land.
5th – 15th November
We are now not only in the water but also off exploring! The last couple of weeks have been busy with anti-fouling, sorting out sails – our Yankee has finally made it back from the sailmaker with the right coloured sacrificial strip – and putting our ‘smart’ canvas back in place rather than the old stuff we left out for the hurricane season. We have cleaned the decks, checked all the fixtures and fittings, redone our bungee lines which had perished in the sun, varnished the cockpit table (with rather poor results so we need to have another go when it is less humid) and we have restocked our depleted cupboards. We have reported on a number of occasions about the challenge it is to go shopping from a boat – it doesn’t get any easier! We ran our supplies right down before we hauled out in June so it’s been a bit of an effort especially as we have been hauling the goodies up a 15′ ladder.
Talking of ladders, Claire managed to misjudge her footing one wet afternoon and took a flying leap to the ground landing on her bottom. To add insult to injury it was tipping with rain and she landed in a great big puddle. 3 days later the bruising started to appear and it is only now (day 11) that the bruise is starting to diminish. Nothing was broken but it was very painful sitting down for a while!
We actually splashed on the 9th and all went well. When we turned on the engine all sounded wonderful but, although there was water coming out of the exhaust, there was nothing from the other outlet (proper name unknown!!) A quick investigation revealed the blockage was another one of the ‘fairy’ nests! A jab and a poke and we were in full flow again.
We attended an Armistice Day Event at Mar Marine on Friday 11th where 6 nations were represented. The first time we have been able to stand for a minute’s silence with other folk since we left Portishead. Afterwards a Canadian film about their Parachute Brigade was put on a screen as a backdrop to the event – Claire’s father would have been delighted to see so many red berets!!
We have played dominoes, had a sing-a-long session on OR when we had Jon from Oystergo and Claudio from Makani to supper, attended a film night at Tortugal (another marina further up the Rio), had a film night on Makani (The Bucket List) and we have played bridge for the first time in years. Like the good hosts that we are, we let our guests have all the cards!! Claire didn’t play a hand all night and James managed one contract (bid and made) of 3NT. However, it has made us determined to teach some other folk to play bridge as it is such a fun game. We had a final sundowner with all our OCC friends from the Suzie Too Rally – what a lovely bunch – it seems strange that after such a long time together we are now going our separate ways.
We have also had our fuel polished! An extremely efficient process of filtering the fuel and cleaning the tank. Roger and his partner Elvira were very quick and we think the price of Q900 for the job was very good value. While the fuel was filtering Elvira managed to catch 5 fish with some bread and a tiny hook she gave us two which were delicious, if a little bony! We needed a generator to run the filtration which we borrowed from ‘Été Infini’ – in fact we had two offers when we asked on the Yachtie Net! The generosity and kindness of one yachtie to another is a very special part of our cruising experience. (The Net is an early morning means of communication between yachts in the neighbourhood. Each country we have been to has something similar. It is a source of weather, useful info, items wanted and items for sale or swap.) Anyway, huge thanks to Été Infini we are very grateful.
On Tuesday we took off for Lake lzabal with Rafiki (Lott and Marlene from the Netherlands). Claire made a final visit to the market to make sure we had enough fresh veg on board. The markets are stunning with so many vegetables we are spoilt for choice – christophina, courgettes, gourds, salad, cucumbers, peppers, aubergines, beetroot, spinach and chard to name a few! And the fruit is just as delicious with oranges, mandarins, bananas, lychees, apples, strawberries and melons all locally grown. However, the exceedingly low prices for the fruit and veg are not matched by the prices for European type foods – chorizo at £6.50, brie at £4.50 for a small triangle, tinned tomatoes at £2.80! We are eating local foods, needless to say, which means chicken, chicken and more chicken interspersed with some mince and pork. Without a freezer we only buy small amounts of meat that we cook on the day we buy it as refrigeration is not a strong point in Guatemala. To date, we have not suffered any ill effects. We don’t feel deprived, in fact we feel remarkable healthy and, if there wasn’t such a big world still to explore, we could spend much longer here.
Lake Izabal is stunningly beautiful. We are going to investigate the hot springs with Rafiki but then we must return to the Nana Juana anchorage as our auto helm is still not working properly. A real bore but it would be good to get it fixed and since we have paid for the repair we’re going to try again. Happily we can report that our Tiller Pilot is working a real treat. However, another small worry is the wheel which is making a niggly noise so we are investigating that without much luck at the moment. Always something to fix and mend on a boat but it keeps us out of trouble.
16 November – 19th November
Another niggle has appeared in the otherwise tranquil life on board Ocean Rainbow, the wind instrument no longer shows where the wind is coming from! Sailing during the day without seeing a needle showing you where the wind comes from is not a problem – we can feel it and we have tell tails on the starboard and port shrouds so there’s a visual indicator and the wind arrow at the top of the mast is still working. The problem comes at night in tricky conditions when Claire relies on the small arrow to keep the boat into wind (without backing the Yankee!!) while James makes the sail change. It doesn’t happen often as we always reduce sail at dusk but we’re not happy to leave the Rio without it working. So, another delay to the plans! Good job they’re flexible plans!! Oh, and did we mention that the pump in the heads is not 100%? We think it’s the ‘joker’ valve (and we don’t have a spare!) so, just to be sure, we have a whole new pump assembly on order – due in this week.
Despite all the above, we have had a lovely trip to Lake Izabal. It’s been gentle sailing and we have made it to the western end of the lake on the northern side but there just wasn’t enough wind to propel us across the lake to Denny’s Beach on the return trip so there is still the southern side of the lake to explore if time allows.
Our first night on the lake was spent at Finca Jocolo. We went ashore in the morning where we were greeted by myriads of children who followed us everywhere we went. One family allowed us into their small farmstead where Mum showed us her kitchen and chatted about her 13 children! The prize possession for the family appeared to be some speakers which were being lovingly polished by a daughter.
Washing is all done in the river using block soap and a washboard and it would appear that every day is wash day which means the fence lines around the farmstead and, indeed the whole village, are always very colourful. The local shop stocked a limited range of dried and tinned goods but absolutely no fresh produce. None of the gardens showed any evidence of ‘veg patches’ either but there were plenty of chicks, hens and ducks in evidence. There were no men around so we assumed they were all off fishing. We did find one canoe tucked away in amongst the reeds with a lady loading cut logs and the sound of chopping coming from the woods – perhaps there were some men tucked away there but one can’t make that assumption as the women are exceedingly strong and very handy with machetes!!
Our next stop was El Paraiso and a visit to Aqua Caliente. El Paraiso is actually a holiday resort with some very simple cabins and a restaurant. Surprisingly there was also a lovely little church. There didn’t appear to be any guests so our custom at the bar on the first evening was very welcome.
In the morning we walked up to Aqua Caliente. The falls are on private land so we paid Q10 each for entry and then made our way along the river. It’s only a 10 minute walk until you get to the waterfall and pool. Our photos aren’t very good because the falls really are hot and the camera lens steamed up! The current through the pool was also very strong so it wasn’t easy to stay still to take the photo – treading water wasn’t an option! It was fun though to have a nice hot shower and when we climbed up to the top of the falls we found some lovely warm pools where we sat until we were wrinkly (well, even more wrinkly!). The route to and from the pools took us past the home of some very smelly toads in the hollow in a tree trunk. The noise and smell they created as we climbed past is not something you experience every day – and for that we’re quite thankful!
We walked back to the main road and there we hopped onto a ‘collectivo’ for the trip to El Boqueron canyon. We have heard that the police only stop the buses if there are people on the top in the luggage compartment, apparently it is quite OK to have folk hanging off the sides and squashed two to a seat inside. On this particular bus we counted 23 people inside and there were 3 on the roof – one of whom was James! Hair raising in more ways than one! We had a bit of a negotiation at El Boqueron because we thought that with the river in flood it wouldn’t be possible to walk beyond the rock pile (where the canoes stop). The young man who was going to paddle us up the river assured us we could get through. Rafiki negotiated the fee and said if we couldn’t get up to the ‘beautiful beach’ then ‘no fee’. Well that was an incentive if ever there was one. Our chauffeur paddled like fury against the current, taking advantage of all the back eddies and slack water but just as we were reaching the end his canoe was caught in the current and we spun around catching a blow to the bow and we were heading back down river.
These canoes are not the most stable modes of transport so when the canoe was facing in the right direction again and we were asked to all move to the back of the canoe it was a bit of a dodgy affair. Apart from the seats tipping up (no surprise there as the seats were just planks of wood wedged across the bottom of the canoe!) we managed it without mishap and the second assault was mounted. One canoe, one man and one paddle with 4 passengers … it was a mammoth effort to get to the rocks and we were amazed to reach the landing point. As for crossing to the beach …. forget it! But with his fee at stake, our young man leapt out of the canoe and proceeded to try every which way to get across the rocks and water to the path for the beach. In the end, even he called it quits and we all loaded back up into the canoe – well Loud didn’t, he decided to drift and swim back! – but the rest of us did. After such an effort we paid full whack for the trip and thought the young man had earned every last cent. Our trip back to the boats was very easy, before we’d even stuck out a thumb a pickup truck stopped, we hopped in the back and we were dropped off at the top of the dirt track leading back to El Paraiso.
Next stop was El Astor. We anchored off the Marine Brigade base for the night – thought this might be secure! Actually we haven’t had any security problems in Guatemala, everyone has been so friendly. In the morning we took a trip into town after a good night’s sleep that had more to do with a busy day than the peace and tranquility of the area – there was music all night and it was still going at 4am! The town itself was a big disappointment. It may have been thriving 20 years ago (when our guide book was written) but it certainly isn’t today. It’s very much faded glory. The streets are wide and paved but that’s all that’s left of the affluence created at the height of the nickel industry. There are a couple of hotels, some electronic stores – including one full of twin tub washing machines – hardware stores, a supermarket which has the same produce as the one in Fronteras but much more spacious and there’s the market. The fruit and veg really didn’t look as good as Fronteras and everything looked so run down with lots of second hand clothes stalls. After a thorough explore to make sure we weren’t being too dismissive of this community, we made our way back to the boats and weighed anchor heading for Denny’s beach on the southern side of the lake.
Sadly the wind didn’t materialise so we made the decision to stay on the northern shoreline and remain sailing rather than motoring across. We anchored in a lovely bay for the night – Ensenada Murcielago and had a very peaceful sleep. In the morning we woke to find ourselves surrounded by canoes and fishing nets! We had to retrace our route for about a mile to find a way through the nets but then it was plain sailing, if a little genteel! But it’s always good to sail rather than motor. We are now back in the anchorage opposite Nana Juana Marina and ready to tackle all those niggly little jobs!
20th – 30th November
The end of another month and we are patiently sitting in the anchorage off Nana Juana waiting for spare parts! It is one of the serious frustrations of being in an ‘outpost’ of the yachting world. We have to order parts from the US or Europe and then, even if DHL uphold their promise to deliver in 3 or 5 days, we have to wait for customs to release the package! We are currently waiting for an Autohelm ST50 wind indicator display unit. Hamble Marine, who sold us the unit, have done their brilliant best to get it to us, but it is now in the hands of the Guatemalan authorities!!
On the positive side, we have a working hydraulic ram for our autopilot and the graunching noise from the wheel has disappeared. When the new hydraulic seals were put on the mechanics failed to completely fill the ram with oil, an airlock developed and that caused the noise and the continuing failure of the autopilot. We haven’t yet been for sea trials but we are very confident that all will be well. It was fun trying to communicate with the two Spanish mechanics who came to sort things out! Charades should be a GCSE skill for all children – far easier than learning a language!!
A big improvement has been the addition of another solar panel to our inventory. We have had precious little sun in the last two weeks with the result that we have been running the engine to charge the batteries. When the sun did come out we still found we didn’t have enough power so we’ve invested in another solar panel which we can stow in the ‘heads’ while we are underway and mount on the deck when we are at anchor. In an ideal world the second panel would be permanently mounted somewhere safe on the deck with a mechanism that would allow us to angle the panel towards the sun but small boats and ideal worlds don’t seem to go together! We’ll still have a problem on a dull day with no wind but that shouldn’t happen too often where we’re going.
Claudio managed to reprogram our WiFi booster antenna so we have been very spoilt with WiFi on the boat. The signal is, of course, dependent on the local network which can be very poor so we are somewhat frustrated on occasions in our attempts to ‘phone home’ but it’s still a vast improvement. Claudio also helped us to wire in the new solar panel! What would we do without his patient instruction and help?
We have re-sealed some of the windows where the sealant was showing signs of crumbling away and we are now waiting for a big shower to see if we have improved matters. Boats always leak somewhere but when the drip becomes a drop it’s time to take action! We are so fortunate with OR as she really is holding up well for her years.
Claire’s big excitement has been a Spanish lesson – she was hoping to get a few lessons before moving on but a small hiccup as the recently found teacher has just cancelled the next session!! Oh well, fluency is improving and motivation is high so morale hasn’t taken too big a knock!! Perhaps there will still be time for another lesson – if not charades will have to do!
Socialising continues. We’ve enjoyed an amazing Saturday lunch at Cafe de Paris – chicken cordon bleu with rice, salad, potatoes, fresh bread, drink and pudding all for Q35 (£3.50), we went to an ‘Open Mike’ session at Sundog where the music was good and the pizza was delicious (although expensive by Guatemalan standards Q110). We’ve had folk on board for coffee and cake – always a great way to get cruising info – we’ve shared sundowners and suppers with Claudio (s/y Makani) and Jon (s/y Oystergo) and we’re generally very chilled out considering our sailing plans for this month have been reduced to a pile of pooh!!
Let’s hope December diary has tales of sailing!!