April 11 -14
After a rough night anchored off Cayo Caratasca in the northern
Vivirillos, we gladly removed our swell bridle and weighed
anchor on a sunny Saturday morning. We sailed a pleasant broad
reach due west in the lee of Honduras' northern coast, hoping
to avoid the bigger seas and stronger winds farther offshore
on the direct route to our destination, Guanaja in the Bay
Islands of Honduras.
As the sun began slipping into the western horizon, a large
pod of dolphin joined our downwind jaunt. I took my seat on
the bow pulpit, laughing, clapping, and shouting encouragement
to the acrobatic performers surfing on our bow wake. Four
or five or six at a time would line up on the crest of the
bow wake, some playfully swimming upside down exposing their
white underbellies. After a few moments, they would peal off
and another group would assume their position. They stayed
with us for about half an hour and then, as dolphins always
do, disappeared as suddenly as they had appeared.
As nightfall approached, the earthy smell of burning wood
reminded us of our proximity to civilization on the mainland.
Midnight brought a mild offshore breeze that allowed us to
start turning north on a gentle beam reach. This was just
in time, as the radar scanned an unlit fishing vessel in our
By midmorning on Sunday, 20 miles south of Guanaja, our pleasant
journey became an endurance test. The wind howled 20-25 knots
with 8-foot breaking waves off our stern. One wave caught
our stern and tossed us precariously down its slippery slope,
splashing the crew. This was the first time we'd been splashed
from a following sea in our center cockpit. (We later found
this wave had made its way into an open portlight and soaked
items in our medicine cabinet.)
Despite the rough conditions, we had no problem entering
the wide reef opening at Pond Channel. We found a calm anchorage
in the protection of El Bight, where a friendly dolphin swam
out to greet us. Where else but in the Caribbean is the welcome
wagon a curious marine mammal.
The next day, with the wind still howling and whitecaps breaking
inside the reef, we launched the dinghy and bashed our way
to Bonnaca to check in with Honduran immigration and the port
captain. Bonnaca is an interesting town, built on a small
cay just off the main island. Narrow paved sidewalks and waterways
wind among crowded two-three story buildings. There are no
When the wind finally eased on Tuesday, we dinghied through
a shallow channel to the west side of the island to snorkel
and explore. On Wednesday, with the wind predicted to crank
up again soon, we decided to make the day-trip to Roatan,
the next Bay Island. Our windlass had been acting up, and
this was its last hooray. Nick had to pull the anchor up by
hand with only the occasional gasping assistance from the
Sometimes life imitates a Corona commercial.
This friendly dolphin welcomes new arrivals
to El Bight in Guanaja.
Dinghy tied to an abandoned dock on the west
side of the island
April 15 - May 13
Parrot Tree Plantation
Light winds and calm seas pushed us the short 33 miles from
Guanaja to Roatan. The boat motion was so smooth that I made
pizza from scratch while underway. Although we typically shun
marinas (expensive and we don't like the view), we decided
to pull into Parrot Tree Plantation Marina on the south coast
to investigate a fix for the windlass. Unfortunately, after
opening it up, we discovered that the windlass motor was toast.
The calm weather ended our first night in Parrot Tree, with
the wind howling 20+ knots and white caps breaking just outside
our protected cove. Since we were enjoying the comfort, security,
and continuous Internet at this beautiful resort, we decided
to stay put until the weather improved.
The cruising world is a small one, as we once again learned
while at Parrot Tree. We had no sooner read an e-mail from
friends in Texas telling us to look up their friends Ken and
Kelly Hutchinson who had bought a house in Roatan, when Ken
appeared on the dock to introduce himself. Ken and Kelly have
a boat in the marina and a home in Parrot Tree with a breathtaking
view of the south shore. In typical Texas fashion, they took
us under their wing and included us on several shopping expeditions
and a memorable night of off-key karaoke.
After five days of being pinned down by howling winds and
rough seas, the weather finally calmed down enough to do what
we had come to Roatan for: to go scuba diving! We had three
days of calm seas on the south shore that allowed us to get
out on the reef in our dinghy. (We only dive when we can do
so independently. Like most cruisers we can't afford to pay
tourist rates for chartered boat dives, and, besides, we like
having the reef all to ourselves.)
West End: Diving Paradise
But of course the calm weather was short-lived. After 10
days at Parrot Tree, we bashed our way out of the narrow cut
in the reef into choppy seas early on Saturday morning. With
a squall on our tail, we headed for West End, located as one
might expect on the west end of the island. Here we found
a comfortable anchorage and calm water but, alas, no available
mooring balls. Sigh. This meant we had to deploy the anchor,
which Nick would eventually have to pull up by hand thanks
to our kaput windlass.
West End was a terrific place, and we could have stayed there
several months. There was no fetch in the anchorage even when
the wind screamed over 30 knots on many nights. The reef behind
us was lined with mooring balls, so we could easily dive from
our dinghy. We met a nice group of cruisers in the anchorage
with whom we enjoyed diving and socializing. At West End Divers,
we pulled our dinghy right up in front of their compressor
and dropped off our tanks for air refills. The laid-back town
offered a variety of shops and restaurants along the main
dirt road. We discovered Cream of the Trop, a shop owned by
a Texas couple offering handmade gelato and free wifi with
a purchase (delicious!). Basic staples were available in a
few small grocery stores, while local producers sold a good
variety of fruits and vegetables from the back of their pickup
trucks. For cruiser/divers, West End is comparable to Bonaire
for easy and fabulous scuba diving. We loved it!
It's tough being a cruiser in a popular tourist destination.
When hoards of vacationing gringos regularly descend on an
island by plane or cruise ship, the locals seem to develop
a resentful, predatory attitude toward anyone with pale skin.
I suppose if you look at the masses of American and European
tourists casually spending in an afternoon more than most
local people earn in a month, you can understand their attitude.
Unfortunately for cruisers, who are typically frugal, retired
people living on a pension, they too are seen by the locals
as rich turistas ripe for the picking.
In Roatan, the taxi drivers have brought gringo gouging to
a new height. When our friends Todd and Shelli arrived on
a cruise ship, they found themselves standing in line with
hundreds of other passengers waiting for taxis. They were
shocked when the taxi driver quoted them $30 US for the short
trip to West End to meet us, but with plenty of other gringos
waving dollars behind them, they paid up and got in. The local
rate for the one-way trip for two people is $3 in a collectiva
(shared) taxi or van. They were gouged to the tune of 10 times
the normal rate. Ouch!
Despite our experience with taxi drivers and gringo pricing,
we too were "taken for a ride" in Roatan. The day
before our departure, we had to travel from West End to French
Harbor in the central part of Roatan. We had asked around
and knew the collectiva van was 30 lempiras (about $1.50)
per person to Coxen Hole. When the van driver hesitated to
quote us a price, we told him what we would pay and he agreed.
In Coxen Hole, we tried unsuccessfully to find a bus to French
Harbor, but a man sitting on some steps told us we could get
there for 30 lempiras each. A taxi pulled up and we told him
we wanted to go to French Harbor. He told us in English the
price was 30. Lempiras, we asked? He nodded. We got in with
two other local passengers, whom he dropped off in town before
heading to French Harbor. We were having a friendly chat with
the driver when he informed us the price was really $30 US.
An argument ensued during which we told him to stop right
now and let us out. He backed off and agreed to 100 lempiras
each ($11 total). We still felt he was cheating us but remembered
being warned by some Americans that the taxi ride to French
Harbor might cost $20 or more. So we paid.
After being dropped off in French Harbor, we told our story
to the clerk at the mail center, who laughed at us after he
pulled his chin off the floor from the shock of hearing how
much we had paid. The trip should not have cost more than
30 lempiras each ($3 total), so there had not been a misunderstanding.
The cashier at the burger joint confirmed that any taxi ride
should be 20 - 30 lempiras each. Armed with this information,
when the taxi driver at the grocery store quoted me 100 lempiras
each to return to Coxen Hole, I told him we wanted a "collectiva"
and his price was too high. He then agreed to 30 each and
offered to take us all the way to West End for the same price
as a van. As it turns out, taxis in Roatan are affordable
if you know the going rate and are willing to travel in a
Life on a Chain
Lest you landlubbers think cruising is just one extended
vacation with no worries or stress, let me remind you that
our lives literally dangle on the end of a chain, our anchor
chain that is. In squally weather, and there's a lot of squally
weather in the Caribbean, this is a precarious existence.
The marine park at West End, Roatan, has installed a number
of boat moorings. However, an underwater inspection of these
moorings does not inspire confidence. Nor does the fact that
during one week in April, three of these moorings broke loose
sending their boats adrift onto the reef. If you anchor, which
the park discourages, you must set your hook in one of the
few sandy places amid the thick turtle grass.
Around midnight one night while at West End, we heard someone
calling another boat on the VHF radio. The boat being called
was anchored just off our starboard side, but when we poked
our heads outside we saw it wasn't there. When we looked back
toward the reef we saw an anchor light where no boat should
be. Nick joined two other captains who dinghied out to the
distressed boat and helped it kedge off the reef. Luckily
there was no wave action in the lee of the island, which in
another location might have pinned the vessel against the
reef and pounded it to shreds. The boat sustained only minimal
damage to its underside and left a few days later, a happy
ending to what could have been disaster.
The couple caught on the reef that night had been cruising
for several years without ever dragging their anchor, and
then, without warning on this particular windy night, they
found themselves stuck on the reef with their home in jeopardy.
So the next time the wind picks up at night and you pull the
covers up to your chin and doze blissfully off to dreamland,
remember that somewhere out there in "paradise"
there's a cruiser hanging on to his home by a mere chain.
A New Jello Plan
Cruisers always call their future intentions a "jello
plan," since they tend to be a bit wobbly and likely
to take a new shape at any time without notice. This may be
due to weather, boat issues, or simply the crew's indecision.
I guess that's the beauty of our gypsy lifestyle. We can change
our minds at any time, pick up the anchor, and set a new course.
Last year, Caribbean Soul's Jello Plan A was to spend
the 2009 hurricane season in the Rio Dulce and return to Texas
in 2010. After the Worldwide Financial Crisis and stock market
tumble last year, Jello Plan B was to return home a year early
in June 2009. While in Roatan, we devised Jello Plan C: spend
hurricane season in the Rio Dulce and put Caribbean Soul
up for sale. This was a tough decision as you might imagine.
Our cruise has always been just a sabbatical, and we'll be
working for at least another decade before we can retire.
A fully equipped 42-foot cruising yacht is overkill for weekend
daysailing, and we can't predict whether we'll go cruising
again after retirement. Caribbean Soul is better suited
to remain in her namesake waters than to be a dockside condo
in Texas. We hope her proceeds will help us launch a new life
and a new dream as yet undefined. So that's the plan for now,
set in jello and subject to change as always.
Sunset in Roatan
Dirt street along the shore in West End,
"Did you see that enormous grouper?!!!"
Hanging out after a dive
with Jan and Rich of Slip Away (rear) and Ann and John
Livin' the Dream (front).
Back in Corpus Christi, Todd and Shelli Braynard
next to Caribbean Soul. Sasanoa is now in Florida,
so we were
thrilled to see Todd and Shelli when they came though Roatan
on the Carnival Legend.
Cruisers enjoy wifi and gelato at Cream of
the Trop in West End.
Standing are Serena Zindler, the owner and a fellow Texan,
with her daughter Lauren and employee Marta.
Roatan Island agouti at Fantasy Island Resort
Capuchin monkey at Fantasy Island Resort
on the south side of Roatan