Friday July 26, 2013
You know how most great adventures start, right? Usually over a drink, or at least good food, where one person ponders out loud, “You know what would be fun?”, as they go into detail about trying something off your beaten path or that hadn’t entered your mind. And since you’re enjoying your drink or your favorable food, you cock your head and stare off into the distance and reply, “That does sound like a good idea.”. And so began plans for our ill-fated trip to Honduras. The dinner club was sitting on the top deck of Hydromax, basking in starlight with spaghetti and meatballs when Luis pondered, “You know what would be fun? We should all take a trip to Honduras, to the Bay Islands, in my boat. Be gone for a week or two. It will be a good time”.
Even though there are huge amounts of boat projects for us to be working on (have I mentioned that Matt is sanding and varnishing the entire interior of Serendipity?), we agreed to this trip because we needed a welcome relief from these projects and it was a chance to visit Roatan without having to take our own boat there. The next week was spent planning and provisioning, and even though all five of us had originally intended on going, Luki dropped out just a couple of days before, stating that even a week might be too long to take off from his projects, then leaving behind me, Matt, Ana Bianca, and Luis to make the trip.
Weather in the Gulf of Honduras was checked daily before our departure, and even though a tropical storm, Dorian, was forming in the Eastern Caribbean, things looked great for us to make the 175 miles out from Livingston, at the mouth of the Rio Dulce, to Roatan. A bail out plan was put in place in case the storm did end up heading our way, but at the time of departure, Passageweather was showing our crossing to only have 5-10 knots of wind with 1-2 meter seas. This was slightly disappoint to me since I had picked our departure date about 4 days earlier, based on glass calm seas and no wind anticipated for that day, perfect conditions for a motorboat. I had wanted to re-create our perfect passage up to El Estor, but it turns out, the weather had other plans in mind.
On board with us for our departure was a Belgium family that had stayed in some of the land based accommodations at the marina and now needed a lift to Livingston. Always wanting to be one to lend a hand where he can, Luis insisted they come that far with us. After a quick breakfast and a $7,000 fill at the fuel station, we were off. The night before, a terrible storm had blown through, causing plenty of debris to wash into the river and us spending the first few miles trying to avoid it. Once the river opened up into the golfete we were in the clear and even made a short stop to let our visitors go for a swim. On our way once more, the three of us sailors (me, Ana Bianca and Matt) gathered on the top deck of the boat to discuss the week ahead that might be in store for us. Matt had already been a little antsy about going, his OCD mind focusing on all the time he was going to miss on Serendipity, checking things off the to-do list before we leave for our backpacking adventure, and Ana Bianca was not quite enthusiastic about heading into the Caribbean Sea with a potential tropical storm heading our way.
I was slightly more indifferent, but all three of us knew that Luis was incredibly excited to be out for an adventure, and wouldn’t come back for a month if he had the option. We talked in hushed voices about how we’d all be better off if instead of going to the Bay Islands of Honduras, avert to some islands off Belize and staying for only three to four days, fitting in with Matt’s timeline, and having a much quicker escape back to the Rio Dulce if need be, satisfying Ana Bianca’s unease. We agreed that since Ana Bianca was the most knowledgeable about these islands, and the most forward with Luis, we’d let her bring it up to him when we arrived at Livingston. But until then, we sat back and enjoyed the views as the golfete narrowed back into a river and the canyons around us grew higher.
There goes Ana Bianca, hogging the spotlight. Literally.
I think we’ve just left Guatemala, and entered Jurassic Park.
As soon as the boat was anchored in front of Livingston and we had taken a lancha to shore, wishing the Belgium family well with their travels, the four of us set out to find internet and see what tropical storm Dorian felt like doing in the next few days. The previous hour before this, Ana Bianca had been finessing Luis with our new idea, trying to get him to see the benefits of a few days in Belize versus a week in the Bay Islands. I, on the other hand, was still torn and thought I’d let the weather do the deciding for me. I should have known it was not going to be ideal out there, since even as we came up to Livingston and the bar, whitecaps were visible on the water just outside and the notoriously calm waters in front of Livingston were rocking and rolling as we sat at anchor. If it was that bad here, I could only imagine what it would be a few miles out from shore.
Doing the regular checks of Passage Weather and NOAA, we saw that one of the potential paths for Dorian was to come west, over Cuba and further into the Caribbean Sea. It confirmed Ana Bianca’s worries that 175 miles from safety might be just a little too far to toy with, and we’d be much better off in the islands off Belize. We could tell Luis was disappointed, I’m sure he had a his heart set on making it to Roatan and Utila, and even more so, showing us all a good time while we were there. I think he felt that switching to Belize was giving up. Now that we had all decided on where to go though, the next step was to visit the customs and immigration agent, Raul, for our zarpe and to get stamped out of the country. The entire conversation with Raul commenced in Spanish, with Luis and Ana Bianca talking to him, and me picking up on every 10th word. I could tell the topic was switching to weather and it wasn’t long before Ana Bianca was standing behind Raul’s computer looking up buoy conditions stationed out in the Caribbean Sea.
It took another ten minutes of Spanish being fired back and forth before I was fully let in on what had transpired since we stepped into the office. Apparently there was a captain of a fishing vessel that had been on his way out of the office, having just checked back in to Guatemala, as we were on our way in. According to this man, he had just arrived that morning from the Bay Islands, and conditions out there were not good. Away from shore, he was stating that the seas were hitting 10 meters. 10 METERS!! For my non metric friends, that’s approximately 32 FEET! And we were about to head out into it! No wonder Ana Bianca was quick to get a little more weather info before we walked out of that office and back on to the boat. Strange thing is, every site we checked showed just about the same thing we’d read before. Winds at 10-15 knots and waves at 1-2 meters.
A quick group huddle came after this information was translated to everyone. The chance of there actually being 10 meter waves out there when all our other information was stating otherwise was slim, but as Ana Bianca put it, even if they were half of that, it would still be a rougher ride than any of us would want to go out in. Departure today was not going to happen. The consensus was that we’d stay put in Guatemala that night and check again the next day. As Matt and I already knew though, seas don’t calm down from that stature in one day. If there was any truth to that fisherman’s statement (or even half of what he stated), we would be waiting at least three days for favorable sea conditions.
A now very discontented Luis led us all back to Hydromax where we made plans of what to do for the evening. Livingston is not a good place for one to leave their boat overnight, with pretty good chances of theft, and the next safest option was about 8 miles up the river. Weighing anchor we headed west into the sun and back into the jungle. I’d be lying if I said that Matt and I weren’t slightly relieved at this weather predicament. It meant that the whole trip may be put off. Not that we hadn’t been entirely excited about the idea initially, but the timing just seemed off. Not only was everyone (except Luis) in a hurry to get back to their boat to complete projects, ensuring that this vacation would not be as relaxing as if there was nothing but time on your hands, but the constant change in plans was making tensions run high aboard, and it almost felt as if continuing on would create a feeling of animosity between our group. Maybe it was better to call the whole thing off and say, ‘At least we tried, maybe another time’.
The three of us who weren’t as upset about the non-departure that day left Luis with a little time on his own to sort his feelings. I think after having been at the marina in Guatemala for the past two years and listening to conversations at dinner each night of all of his new friends recent adventures, he was ready to go have his own. 15 ft waves or less, he was willing to go, sacrificing 24 hours of comfort and strapping himself to the wheel if need be, so the next time we gathered at the ranchito he could join in our passage conversations with ‘Hey guys, remember those crazy seas on our trip to Honduras?’, and catalog it with the rest of his The Most Interesting Man in the World stories. It is just speculation of course on why he wanted to get out there so badly, but the desire was definitely there. We all kind of wished Luki was on board, a human sedative that relaxed and calmed, and put everything into perspective. But since it was only us, we decided that time and space were the best current medicine, and we sat up on deck, trying to keep the mood light until our anchorage came into view.
Some kisses will lighten the mood.
Ana Bianca wants kisses too.
We motored into a gorgeous and quiet bay, and after the hook was set, made some coffee while sitting around the open transom to discuss the day and the possibilities for tomorrow. There was the option of motoring back down to Livingston, but checking the weather online wouldn’t be enough. Had we gone soley on weather reports from that, we still would have left today. We needed real time updates from someone out on the water. Which meant trying to hail down a ship on VHF and having them relay the current conditions to us. But…what would it take for all of us to agree that conditions were good enough to go? I think the three of us knew it as soon as we walked out of Raul’s office that afternoon. This trip, was off. Luckily, Ana Bianca and I had something up our sleeves. Instead letting weather dictate our travels, why not do some land based traveling instead? All of us had been wanting to get out to Antigua, why not try for that? We’d go back to the marina the next morning, continue on projects throughout the next week, and leave in one week by bus to central Guatemala.
Matt was quick to agree, just happy not to have to face the prospect of rough seas, and once Luis realized it was that or nothing, he agreed as well. Stating that Antigua didn’t hold much interest for him, but maybe he’d spend the weekend at Lake Atitlan. With the knowledge that we wouldn’t have to brave any rough weather out on the water, I let out a huge sigh of relief. That same uneasy feeling I had in my stomach just before we crashed in St. Augustine had been forming, and I was glad to avert a potential crisis before it happened. Since we were all decided on the plan now, the only thing left to do was enjoy the rest of the evening and the beautiful sunset in front of us. It may not have been where we’d envisioned ourselves to be that night, sitting at anchor instead of preparing to begin our sleep shifts, but to me it felt like exactly where we needed to be.