Throwback Thursday: Goodbye Guatemala

Now that we’re sitting in Indiantown Marina and it’s obvious that we’re going to be here for quite a long time while we fix up Daze Off to sail, I don’t want to bore you with stories that are only related to boat work (but don’t worry, they’re still coming).   I know that’s what some of you crave, but if you’re like me, you also need a little fun in there.  A little travel and a little adventure.

So for the foreseeable future while we are doing nothing much more than boat work I will be adding a Throwback Thursday post in every week as well.  Cataloging our trip so far, giving you that needed sense of travel and adventure, and for those of you that haven’t started with us from the beginning, catch you up on some of the most important or memorable parts of our travels.

November was a bit of a low month for us in the Rio.  Not long after our trip out with Nacho and his friends, we moved the boat out of our slip at Tortugal Marina and enjoyed being on the hook once more.  Not only for the tranquility of it but also to escape a certain neighbor we’d been having issues with.

It was finally time to go though.  After waiting out winds for a week and a half and then quickly replacing an alternator bracket when it broke on us, we were ready to go.  Time to get moving again and time to fill our sails with wind.  On to the Cays of Belize and eventually Mexico where we hoped to meet back up with our friends Luki and Elmari. The best part of it all, was that after arriving in Guatemala with the thought that I was done traveling via sailboat, the excitement once more took over me and I couldn’t wait to get back on the water.

You can find the original post here.

Tuesday December 3, 2013

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This morning we were up with the sun, only to find out that most of the other boats in the bay had already gotten out before us. I swear, I didn’t even think I was sleeping that hard, but I heard no engines running or anchors being weighed. Our only hope is they don’t get to the agent’s office in Livingston before us and clog up his day with paperwork, forcing our departure back until late afternoon. It didn’t matter to me though. Once again, we were moving. And the best part of the Rio was yet to come. The rocky cliffs, the immobilizing thick jungle, and being deposited into the Amatique Bay, leading out the the Gulf of Honduras and Caribbean Sea. We were about to be set free once more.

Reaching the town of Livingston about half past eight in the morning, we dropped the anchor off to the side from the flow of traffic and put the dinghy down to get ourselves to shore. None of the other boats from last nights anchorage were resting in the same place, which means they must had checked out previously, going back up the river for the night and heading back down to catch this mornings high tide. We had contemplated that as well, but since we want to arrive at our destination tomorrow morning, a mid afternoon low tide departure will suit us just fine. We tentatively powered the dinghy up toward shore, scanning the horizon between all the shouting children that were pointing for a spot to go, until we saw the older Rastafarian man that had kept an eye on our dink when we first arrived here, and mentally reminded ourselves to save at least $5 before we spent the rest of our Guatemalan cash so we could tip him when we left.

Rounding the somewhat familiar streets, we walked up the steps to the agent’s office and found out that even though it wasn’t quite 9 am yet, the door was open. Raul, the agent we were used to working with, wasn’t there, but in his seat was a younger man of around 15-20. Maybe his son or a nephew? Just as friendly and outgoing as Raul though, this new guy mentioned Raul would be in shortly and that he could get our paperwork started in the meantime. Going over the fees, he told us what we could expect to pay to check out, and that we should be back in an hour to collect our zarpe. Other than that, we were free to roam the town.

I had been able to sneak my laptop in my bag with me, along with all the necessary boat papers that had to make their way in, and after walking through a few of the backstreets and realizing we didn’t have a need (or want really) for any of the goodies in the thrift shops on the main street, we decided to stop for breakfast at a brightly blue colored restaurant, taking seats in the shade on a covered patio. Proud of myself for speaking only in Spanish, I was able to order a coffee along with some delicious sounding coconut bread and jam I keep hearing about, and procure the password to their wifi signal. While I was doing last minute Facebook updates and assuring both our parents that they we may be out of internet range for the next week and they should not alert the authorities about us if we’re not heard from in the next two days, Matt did some last checks on his email and the weather.

Before we knew it, our hour was up and we were back in Raul’s office, shaking his hand and getting our zarpe, the whole process already completed for us. Man I love dealing with an agent. One stop shopping. What we did realize after checking out though, is that it cost us a good deal less than we thought it would, and we were still left with 300 Q, or about $40, in our pockets. I looked at the pretty sundresses billowing in the wind while resting on mannequins, but Matt just shook his head no. I already have too many dresses, and they never get worn. True. So instead we hiked up the hill to the bank and exchanged our Guatemalan cash for US and began our descent back to the dinghy.

Rio Dulce, Guatemala

Rio Dulce, Guatemala

Getting to Serendipity once more it was still about three hours before our slack tide, but the waters looked so calm that we didn’t think going out against a small opposing current would be a big deal.  The dinghy was quickly hauled up on deck and secured and before we knew it we were motoring out through the bar, following our previous tracks from our entrance back in June, and my heart in my throat until we hit steady depths of 12 feet again, although we only saw under 7 ft once or twice.  The winds were on our nose just enough that we were able to motorsail with the mainsail up, sacrificing just a little speed so that we could point high enough that we didn’t run ashore on the point of land in Guatemala that hooks out at the end of Amatique Bay.

For hours we cruised on like this until just an hour before the sunset when we were able to point more north, prepping ourselves to sneak into the inner channel between mainland Belize and it’s outlying cays.  We found a coordinate that allowed us to take open waters for a great portion of the southern point, and then duck in with ample safety once we reach it in the dark.  Matt took a nap to prepare himself for the first night shift, and when he woke up I heated the chili I had prepared the night before.  Seas were mostly calm and I didn’t even get sick below deck which I was very thankful for.

I have to say, our first day back out, and everything was perfect.  Oh right, except for that one issue.  The issue of a bolt shearing off on the engine, one of three that holds in the new alternator bracket we just had fabricated.  And what’s that?  Oh yeah, we’re in the middle of a channel.  In the dark.  With the wind still on our nose.  Having a running engine is kind of an important thing.  Matt shut the whole thing off for a few moments as we bobbed around, losing all forward momentum, making sure the issue didn’t look like it was going to get worse.  We could survive with 2 out of three bolts, but if either of the others went, we would be fu@%ed.  Thinking quick, he took some wire and wound the bracket on tighter, but now the rest of the passage will consist of 30 minute engine checks to make sure it’s all still running smoothly.  Dear god, do not let anything happen until after my night shift.  I don’t think I could handle sailing through this channel while left to my own devices right now.

Gulf of Honduras at sunset

mountains of Belize at sunset

 

Last Sunset in Florida?

Friday April 5, 2014

sunset on Lake Sylvia

This morning we were Bahama bound. At least, we thought we were. It’s not like this is our first rodeo, so we thought we had done everything necessary to get ourselves going. We had a good weather window, the diesel was topped off, provisions for the next 4-6 weeks had been tucked away (I know you can still buy food in the Bahamas, but come on, at those prices?), and we had just found a killer sale at Publix on their soda for 2-for-1. Yes, we were ready to head back to those crystal clear waters and white sand beaches.

A few unsuccessful naps had been attempted in the afternoon and evening, but by 1 am we were awake and finishing the last minute preps to get underway. Everything that was susceptible to gravity was put away and Georgie was wrangled, quite easily this time, into her harness. The engine was purring and all we had to do was get the anchor up and get on our way. Then curse words started flying back at me from the bow, spoken quietly enough though as not to wake our sleeping neighbors. Our bow navigation light that we had just replaced in Cozumel was now corroded and no longer working. We no longer had running lights for this trip. Kind of an important thing when you’re jumping across these shipping lanes in the middle of the night.

We talked about our options. Back in Cozumel when we had run into this issue, it wasn’t until we were coming into the harbor just after dark when we realized they were out. I was sent to the bow for the last 30 minutes with two headlamps in my hands, a red one to point to port and a green one to point to starboard. I was pretty sure that I could not, would not, stand at the bow for the next six hours doing the same thing this time around. Then we tried tying them to the cleats, but we knew that would probably only get us as far as the entrance to the Gulf Stream before they washed off. Do we chance it? Even then, we still wouldn’t be able to do any night sailing once we got to the Bahamas.

I hate to say this, but at 1:30 am, my bed was calling to me louder than the Bahamas. Why chance today what you can properly do tomorrow. So it was decided that after we woke up we’d make a run to West Marine or Boat Owner’s Warehouse and purchase and install a new one. This time a fully encased one that hopefully won’t let in salt water and corrode. It’s getting a little tiring replacing that thing every 4-6 months.

The funny thing to the whole situation though was Georgie’s reaction. Even though we’d called off the passage and were not even moving, the fact that the engine was running and she had her harness on was enough to get her into super-affectionate passage mode. Where, once we start traveling, she becomes your shadow. Follows you up and down the companionway and sits as high on your chest as possible when you’re resting. She didn’t get the memo that she was safe for the night. Poor thing was still all over us as we sat in the salon below, pouring over the West Marine catalog and the next day’s forecast. Pick me up. Don’t let me go. Love me, love me, love me. There’s Pavlov’s Theory on dogs, but I think we’ve just come up with Johnson’s Theory on cats. Make them think that they’re going on passage and they turn into a cuddly anxious mess. I think I might turn to this whenever I feel lonely and need some of her headbutt affection.

sunset on Lake Sylvia

Let’s Get this Show on the Road

Tuesday February 11, 2014

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Every single morning, one of the first things we do over a hot cup of coffee, is bring up Passage Weather to see if there are any opportunities coming up for us to make our escape. Usually once or twice a week we’ll get excited by the beginning day or two of a window projected for the next week, but as soon as the full forecast loads, we’ll find out that our window is only 24-36 hours instead of the 72-84 that we need. In a 7 day period, we can never seem to find more than 48 hours, usually not even grouped together, where the wind isn’t blowing from the north or the east, and usually pretty damn hard at some point.

While checking the weather this past Wednesday or Thursday we had seen a window come up for today, Tuesday, but given a few more days that opportunity was gone by the weekend. Strong east winds had filled in for what would be the last day of the trip, right at the point where we would have rounded Cuba and been heading through the Florida Straights toward Key West. We’d actually been hopeful that we’d come across a really good forecast with four days of good wind that would bring us all the way up to Miami, but that was absolutely in no way going to happen. So while I was boiling the water for coffee this morning and letting the week’s forecast upload, I was really surprised to see that our window was back. We had 3-4 days of wind on our side…if we left today.

Seeing this forecast pop back up we had two big questions to ask ourselves. The first and biggest one being: Do we trust this forecast? Normally we’d like to monitor something like this for a few days to make sure it’s stable and that it won’t change on us mid passage. This would now be the third time we’d seen this forecast change, going from favorable, to unfavoarable, and back again. Would it stay this way? Or would we bit hit with a nasty surprise in the Gulf of Mexico. One place you definitely do not want surprises. The other question was: Do we still have enough time to get ourselves out of here, hopefully no later than 3:00 today? Knowing that we might try to jump on a window as soon as it came up, we tried to prepare ourselves in the previous days so that if we did only have a day to get ourselves ready to leave, we could do it. There really isn’t much to do to get ourselves ready for a passage anyway. The normal things of getting everything stowed away so it doesn’t bash about the cabin while underway, run the jacklines so we’re not trying to do it underway, and getting the dinghy safely stowed and tied down on deck. In addition to that, for this passage we also needed to fill up our diesel jugs, make a quick run to the grocery store, and oh yeah, check out of the country.

With it being just past ten in the morning, it would give us five hours (if stretching it) to complete all the things above. For the first question, I turned to Matt. He turned right back to me and said “You’re the captain, you decide”. Well that wasn’t very helpful at all. I asked him what his thoughts on the weather window were. He replied that we could do it, but it would be easier if we had a better window. The one we were looking at had north winds on our fourth day, in case we didn’t make in in the three we were hoping, and there were also possible thunderstorms for some of the areas we were passing through. I decided to start checking more sources to see what they said. Wind finder looked about the same, but I wanted at least one more reputible source. And while wading through the many links and forecasts on NOAA, I found it. Winds were to be fairly low (we never travel with anything forecast over 20), waves were to be low, the only thing we had to watch out for were those possible thunderstorms. Although after sitting here now for almost five weeks while waiting for any kind of window that would carry us to Florida, I figured it was worth the risk. We were more than behind on our original schedule, and I didn’t want to still be sitting in this harbor come March.

Finally deciding on this course of action at 12:30, we really needed to get our butts moving to check everything off our list. First stop would be the port captain to begin check out procedures. Making a few copies of necessary documents, we rode the dinghy into town and walked into the office. Letting the man behind the counter know that we were bound for the States and needed a zarpe, he gave me a few pieces of paper to fill out and then let me know that I needed to get copies of them made. Getting directions to the nearest ‘Kinkos’, we searched through the back streets and found it on our second try. Bringing all these papers back to the Port Captain, he indicated he would need a little time to work on them and we should have a seat. Glancing at the clock that was now reading two, we started to worry that we wouldn’t get out of the harbor before nightfall. Even worse, while sitting there waiting we watched black clouds roll in from the south, threatening some nasty storms and making us second guess our decision to leave. Except, now that we were 90% checked out, we couldn’t really hang around for the next few days, or weeks, while waiting for another window to come up. Before we had time to even think about it more, the Port Captain called us back up and told us to bring the three sets of forms he had been working on to the Immigration office to get stamped, where one would stay there, one would be for us, and the last would need to be brought back to him. We rushed out of there hoping it wouldn’t take very long.

Luck was not on our side. What should have been a five minute process at Immigration turned into 45 minutes because it turns out that we didn’t have the receipt for the money paid to Immigration when initially checking in to Cozumel. I always keep all my papers together, and bring more than what’s needed each time I visit officials, so I knew that I hadn’t left it back on the boat. But I also remembered receiving this receipt back when we checked in. Which means one thing. Back when I handed all the papers to the Port Captain back in Cozumel to show him that I had gone through all the steps of checking in, he kept it along with all the other papers. The next forty minutes consisted of us trying to tell the current Immigration officer that we had paid while checking in, and the officer at the Port Captain took it along with everything else. She wasn’t convinced and was ready to have us pay the 560 peso fee all over again. After a little sweet talking on the part of Matt, she agreed to call the Immigration office in Cozumel to see if they had record of us checking in and paying the fee. We watched the clock as the minutes ticked by.

Without even really vocalizing if there was or was not record of us, she called us back to the desk where our papers from the Port Captain were handed back to us. I was about to begin asking questions, but Matt noticed the stamp on them and scopped them up before I could utter a word. Thanking the woman, we ran out the door before they could change their minds. Back at the Port Captain, we handed his copy to him and once again ran out the door. It was now just before 3:00 and we still had errands to do before we go.

Tearing through the aisles of the local market like contestants on Supermarket Sweep, we filled out basket up with junk food, muffins, cookies, and a few bottled yogurts. All things that did not need to be prepared and could quickly be grabbed from the chill box or pantry when we were ready to eat. As far as prepping meals for the passage, that was out the window. We just had to focus on having any kind of food aboard that would see us through the next three to four days. Back in the dinghy we took the long ride across the harbor and part way through the channel that leads to the lagoon to fill up two of our jerrycans with diesel. We had just filled up the tank in the morning with what had been in the jerrycans, so at least we knew we’d be leaving fully loaded.

It was four o’clock when we finally got back to Serendipity, but on the bright side, it literally had gotten brighter. The dark clouds that were hanging over us for a few hours were now gone, only having left a light sprinkle behind. Knowing that our family had no indication that we were leaving I quickly got a few messages out that a window had just come up, and they could expect to hear from us in a few days. It was also a chance to let my mom know that she could finally send that care package containing our new debit card to Key West, and it wouldn’t be shipped back to her because we weren’t there in time to receive it (good thing I didn’t tell her to send it back when we first started looking for a window). When I had completed that and Matt and the jacklines run, we worked together to get the dinghy up, and with engine running, could finally get the anchor up and start the 375 mile journey to Florida. I have a feeling though, as desperate as we were to get out of this place, we’re kind of going to miss it.

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