Tales of the Itinerant Sailor
The Landlubber's Tale
Saturday, May 17: This year’s cruise has an altogether familiar beginning. It does not begin with a sailing adventure; it starts via air travel, from Miami to Guatemala.
Actually, it begins with a Greyhound Bus ride from Key West to Miami International Airport. I get to experience firsthand how the transportation industry is not-so-subtly passing on the increasing fuel costs without increasing the ticket price—by charging extra for baggage.
Greyhound would only let each passenger take one parcel on board; everything else had to go below. An extra charge was levied on parcels in excess of two. It cost me an extra $40 before I even left Key West.
Carmen Rosa Aracena has flown in from the Dominican Republic to join me on the first leg of this year’s sea adventure. The plan is to sail from Guatemala to Panama
At MIA, the American Airlines ticket agent waits patiently while we repackage our parcels to get down to the number of carryon and checked baggage allowed. At that time, the number was the key, not the weight.
Arriving the next day at the Rio Dulce, we find all is well with the Sirius II. Batteries are fully charged but nearly out of water. Very dirty after six months of neglect, but mainly on the exterior, not the inside. Julia Bartlett (Haleiva) had arranged for a local cleaning lady to wipe the mold and mildew clean from the interior. But the exterior has green stains from the nearby trees (remember, this marina, La Joya del Rio, is located in a lagoon with trees all around), baked on dirt along the hull, rust on all the stainless steel and all the wood needs a new finish.
Hawk with mama duck in background.
The only significant changes: The catwalk bridge across the swamp is in pieces. This is the result of a conflict between the marina owner and the owners of the property where the bridge crosses. So I am told. And Mama Duck has just given birth to some ducklings. From the 7 – 12 eggs, two survive, soon to be only one, then within a month, none. I suspect the hawk that the employees have raised from birth and released. The laws of nature prevail.
First, finish the repairs. I was in the process of installing a new auto pilot when I left the boat last fall. A very tedious process as this is a new, up-dated system from Raymarine, requiring installation of components in the far reaches of the hold. One component must be in perfect alignment with the rudder. I can’t even see the rudder from inside the hold!!!!!! After spending a day measuring and re-measuring, fitting and refitting, and calling on the gods of the sea: Thetis, Triton, Poseidon—or Neptune if one is Roman—or Dylan if you are Welsh, which I am (a little), or the sea goddess Amphitrite, wife of Poseidon, I put it together. Eureka! Later when I do a sea trial, I learn that it is in perfect alignment. I think it was Dylan.
And of course I need certain hardware that is not available in this market area, probably not in all of Guatemala. I knew that I would find these at Strunks Hardware in Key West, a well-supplied hardware store for our small town. However, to give credit where due, this project also required some skillfully engineered wood braces, which the local furniture fabrication shop was able to do for me—precisely and at a reasonable price.
Installation of the new auto steering also entails removing the steering wheel from the pedestal. One plastic retainer. That’s all that holds it on. After removing the nut, do you think the wheel would come off? Of course not; rust has been cementing it to the shaft for more than 20 years. I borrow a fellow cruiser’s wheel puller. I break it. I hire the local outboard mechanic. He brings his shop-worn heavy duty puller. He breaks it. The next day he returns with another, newer pulley Finally, the wheel comes off!
I relate the details of this maintenance/repair chore, as well as others that follow, as this becomes much of the cruise for this season. The more time spent on maintenance, the less time to cruise. What should have been day-long projects, becomes a week. Anyone who has ever owned a boat understands this.
Prior to the sea trial of the new auto pilot, I do a routine boat preparedness check. Anchor light not working. The red/green navigation light on the bow not working. I don’t like climbing the mast, so I tackle the navigation light first.
Over the years I have made many repairs to the electrical connections for this light. A few years ago I rewired and rerouted the wire through the hull and bow pulpit. I used heavy duty marine grade duplex wire, supposedly impervious to oil and water. Not so. I find not one but two breaks in the wire where it has succumbed to water.
Steve climbing the mast to replace anchor light
Next, I climb the mast to tend to the anchor light. Sixteen-year-old Joseph, s/v Karina, volunteers to climb the mast for me. His eagerness is appreciated, but I decline. The likelihood of a mishap is slim, but I am not willing to expose a teenager to this possibility. Of course, if it were my own child….
Then comes cleaning, washing, polish the stainless steel, paint the wood, complete the sea trial to adjust and calibrate the auto pilot, top off the water and fuel, and we are ready to cruise.
We listen to the cruisers net at 7:30 Friday morning June 19 just in case any of the listeners have late breaking weather news. Nothing heard. We cast off and head down river, arriving at Livingston about noon. We tie up at the same dilapidated dock as before, arrange for a water taxi to pick us up in an hour, and go in to clear out with immigration, customs and the port authority.
Saturday June 20: We notice a little weather as we wend our way through the unmarked channel and over the bar. It takes an hour to go the one mile to the entrance buoy, with the depth sounder showing depths consistently under six feet (the Sirius II draws 5.5’ of water). Then we are in the Bay of Honduras. Destination: The island of Roatan, about 30 miles off the Coast of Honduras and 30 hours due east of our present position.
Checking out at Livingston, Guatemala
All day long with a heading of northeast then east we find the wind off the nose. Impossible to sail, unless we take a one-day tack toward the Cayman Islands. Throughout the day the wind is picking up, the waves are gaining strength, and the ride becomes less comfortable. Carmen has taken sea sickness medication and finds it difficult to stay awake. Of course these head winds have reduced the forward speed of the Sirius II and at this rate it will take us over 40 hours to make the trip. Forty uncomfortable hours.
At dusk I elect to turn south for the commercial port of Puerto Cortes, about two hours distance. On the chart it appears to be an easy entry with a channel that is marked and lighted. We reach the Port Authority on the VHF Radio. The navy sends a launch out to guide us in. They allow us to tie up at their dock for the night.
At daybreak we leave the dock, anchor out, and go in to town to check in, and learn the weather might worsen during the day. After lunch, we weigh anchor and go in search of a marina that we hear about, only to discover it doesn’t exist. We return to the anchorage, set out two anchors, and wait. Fortunately, the harbor is so well protected that it isn’t a bad wait.
And we wait for nearly a week. By this time we are running out of time. We elect to return to the Rio Dulce. With the wind in our favor, this turns out to be a good sail. And we cross the bar at Livingston at low tide with no problem.
Friday, June 27, 2008: Cloudy, cool, calm, barometric pressure steady at 30.01. We are back at the Marina La Joya del Rio. We should be starting a cruise, not ending one. But that is what happens when you sail by the calendar.
On July 2nd we take a bus across the border to San Pedro Sula, Honduras. We spend one day at the beach in the Seaside town of Tela. Then, on July 4th Carmen catches her flight to attend her “daughter's” wedding in Norway. I catch a later flight for Miami so that I can spend some time in Key West before flying on to Seattle. I celebrate the Fourth of July by watching the fireworks over Miami as the plane circles while approaching Miami International Airport.