Cruisers countdown……..getting ready to leave Rio Dulce

Well, the months have passed – and very good months they have been [as regular readers will know] – but it’s now time to be movin’ on. Some people have already left the river – we have said “Adios” to JD and Linda [Kokopelli] and to Allen and Patricia [Nauti Nauti], though it was only a short term “Adios” as we hope to catch them up in the Bay Islands.

But, we are certainly getting gate fever now and looking forward to life on the ocean wave once more. There are just a few last minute jobs to be done – servicing the engine, outboard and generator and putting the mainsail back on with its new boom car. We also need to scrub the dinghy and the tent as both of these have suffered in the humid conditions. We have never had such green lines and decks and one morning this week I even found fungus growing around the edge of the gas locker….

…no comments required about the state of the teak deck. The photo is taken on macro showing all the blemishes in gory detail  and we have always known we need to renew – but we haven’t got the cash at the moment.

We also need to finish provisioning with tinned and dried goods because part of our planned cruising this coming season is to visit the San Blas Islands where, by all accounts, there is nothing to buy at all apart from some fresh fish and, occasionally, fresh vegetables and fruit courtesy of the local Kuna Indians.

But that is some time away and what we have to concentrate on now is getting down the river and over the bar at Livingston. You may remember when we came into the river that I explained about the sand bar. We have been looking at the tides and they are lower than in June but we think that we will be OK. Stu and Steph [Matador] and Larry and Marlo [Beatrice] are less sure as they touched bottom on the way in!

We are just hopeful that the weather window is obliging round the 10th – 12th December as those are the best tides we get [though crossing at 4.00pm – 5.00pm we are pushing it a little at this time of year as it is almost dark by 5.30]. For us, with a shallower draft, our main concern is wind speed and direction. We are now in the season for cold fronts – commonly known in these parts as “Northers” which can come through at a rate of once a week. We have just had one and wind speed was 45knots plus – not that we felt it in the river – though it has cooled down somewhat, we have resorted to long sleeved t-shirts in the evenings and the ritual afternoon dip in the pool ended about three weeks ago.

We are also a little confused as to when the rainy season actually takes place. In theory it is June to October in Guatemala but, other than a short spell in July, we have hardly seen any rain until the last month and we have now read that the northern Honduran coast [where the Bay Islands are] has a rainy season November to February? Indeed we have seen quite a bit of rain during November, the first blow occurring when Mike was at his Spanish lesson. I saw some approaching cloud….

….but didn’t expect the ferocity of squall it brought with it. It doesn’t look that bad at all. However, I became stranded on the boat when the “marineros” went swiftly round the marina removing all gangplanks so that the anticipated swell wouldn’t damage sterns. All very well and good except that I had to await Mike’s return before I could get off and, due to the extremely heavy rain which followed the wind, he [and Stuart] decided that beers were called for before they attempted to cross back over the river from Mar Marine to Tijax. Can’t say I blame them though – it was a downpour. The photograph below was taken during another typical rainstorm….

….and this one shows some of the floating gardens we get after a storm…

But, the cooler weather means that some of the sweatier work can be tackled. As yachty friends know, many jobs on the boat involve lying in small cupboards at impossible angles trying to attach screws with only one hand – as two won’t fit. This was recently the case when we fitted our new holding tank – though the finished job is really quite neat.

Perhaps our biggest triumph in this job was correctly measuring where the deck outlet hole had to be drilled to be exactly over the pump out hole in the tank. It was certainly a case of measure once, measure twice, debate the issue over a coffee and measure again before we applied the drill. We hate making holes in the boat and getting it wrong would have been a bad thing.

The engine room was the scene of two another close quarters, tight fit jobs – but we are now the proud owners of a new battery charger…













….and a new alternator regulator which was fitted in the manner of “read a paragraph of the instructions, attach a wire, read the next paragraph, attach another wire etc”.  Better to be safe than sorry though!

You may remember that we had alternator problems in St. Lucia about 18 months ago and although we were able to get a second hand replacement Mike has not been totally happy with the battery performance since. He can now report an output of 14.2v at the battery and, having come across a specialist mechanic here, we have also had our original alternator renovated so have a spare.

Although there are many things that you can’t buy in the Rio – like a plastic funnel – we have been quite surprised at what we have been able to get and also at the quality of the craftsmen [they are mainly men!]. You will recall that we had our saloon re-upholstered. I think an earlier blog post showed photos of the old stuff leaving but I don’t think I ever showed you the finished product…










Material and labour cost us £450 which, when compared to the approximate £1,000 we paid in the UK for cockpit cushions and a small cover, is an absolute bargain. Matador has had a beautiful new teak toe-rail fitted. The carpenter was trained in the US and charged £12.50 per day – yes…. per day.

Just as a matter of interest I compared costs of our stay in Guatemala this hurricane season against Grenada last year. Grenada [in a cradle on the hard] cost £1,710 plus £430 for water and electricity. For the same period, Tijax has cost £586 [including water] and £38 for electricity. Our day to day living costs [food/drink aboard] have been around a third less – £1,500 for four months in Grenada and £900 [for four months] here. I guess it could have been done more cheaply but we didn’t exactly skimp in either place. Laundry costs were about the same in both places, except here it is done for you. Our going out, having fun, seeing places costs are also more comparable with an approximate spend of £3,550 last year and £2,800 this year. That comparison is harder to assess though because we spent 5 weeks in the UK last year [though my total spend does not include the airfares and, having such great family and friends, there was no cost for accommodation]. As you know we have been out and about quite a bit here and, as well as day trips, quiz nights, meals out in the Rio, we have spent a total of 30 nights away from the boat, so the spending costs do include accommodation for those nights. As I said above, I made the comparison out of interest as much as anything else. I would certainly go back to Grenada again – especially if I wasn’t planning on leaving the boat as spending the hurricane season at anchor in Grenada would be much cheaper, and nicer, than being on the hard [though there is always that hurricane threat – which there isn’t in Guatemala]. However, we are so impressed with the marina here – and the travel options – that we have decided that we will come back again next year and have booked our spot.

Anyway, back to jobs and perhaps the biggest job this year – fitting the SSB. As well as finding/making spaces for the various components we have had to feed ten wires through cupboards and under the floor and bed, fit the aerial up the backstay and wire various bits and pieces together around the chart table. Because Mike likes being in the bosun’s chair so much, as well as doing the backstay work thus perched, he also suspended himself to facilitate the expansion of some holes in the stern arch to thread the extra wires through.

All of this sounds like I am a bit redundant but I am a dab hand with an electrical screwdriver, wield a soldering iron like a pro and am general fetcher and carrier of tools, cable ties, towel, coffee and even roll the occasional cigarette when Mike’s hands are too grubby. I also get to do exciting things like stripping and re-varnishing the companionway steps…

and made Christmas puddings!










But, as usual – it hasn’t been all work, work, work. About three times a week we have a BBQ in the cruisers lounge which finds the usual suspects gathering for food, beer and good company.









Above left Mike shares conversation with Allen and Marlo, with Stu, Larry, John and Brian on the right. Below there are Jeri and Patricia on the left and Allen and Patricia flanking Jon and Becky on the right.










Jon and Becky [Coquina] are fairly new friends. They left the UK as backpackers, arrived in Guatemala about 5 months ago, bought Coquina here in the Rio about 4 months ago and are now getting well into the swing of the liveaboard lifestyle – especially the rum ‘n coke part! They are joining the posse of Siga Siga, Matador and Beatrice out over the Livingston sandbar and over to Honduras.

John and Jeri [and I apologise if it’s Jon, not John] sail on “Peking” but, because they are due to visit family in China in January, aren’t going to be part of the grand trek. It will be very sad to say Goodbye but we have lots of happy memories of their company such as my birthday party night…..

Jeri crocheted the scarf which, because the weather was still hot in October, worked better as a hair band that night. She and John also set the ball rolling with Mimosas [Buck’s Fizz to us Europeans] at the start of last weeks’ Thanksgiving Day meal….

…which was followed by a feast at Vista Rio

and finished the evening off, as often happens, with music.

Another musical evening at Vista Rio saw Steph assisting Stuart,

Allen, Alan and Jon then joining in…..

..and, lo and behold… a public appearance of the saxophone as well.

That was all part of the Japanese evening where we were treated to Sushi and Teryaki Chicken [or as near to it as you can get on the Rio – though we did get Wasabi!]

We also had music night in the cruisers lounge when various musicians from other marina’s came to join us….

…and, just to prove we have some sophistication Mike and I organised a wine tasting and canapés evening – ably assisted in the opening of bottles by David [“Four Gulls”].

Well, it started out sophisticated anyway!

We were here at the marina on Guatemalan Independence Day. Traditionally, Guatemalan’s start this day with a kind of corn porridge [I can best describe it as very sweet Ready Brek] accompanied by a Corn Tamale.

Mike ate it all, I didn’t!

We also celebrated World Peace Day. Lucy, who works here as tour guide, organised a walk up to the Shaman Tower…

…and Eugenio [the owner of the marina] set the fire and candles according to tradition with the wood placed to face north, south, east and west with different coloured candles also strategically placed.

Each colour represented a different “thought” – about family or peace or environment and each person was invited to choose a candle and take a moment to think. After this, the main fire was lit and “fed” with chocolate and alcohol to please the spirits.

We have also celebrated Steph’s birthday….

… but I really must work on a better setting for late evening photography.

Our off the boat activities are not just night-time fun and games and you might have spotted above that I made a reference to Mike attending Spanish lessons. He has really enjoyed these and learned quite a bit. Certainly our trips to buy stainless steel screws, air filters, pipes and cables have become far less of a charade game.

I have been horse riding twice …










– well, it may be more fair to say that I have sat on the backs of two different horses –“Tango” and “Gus” who are trail horses and not prone to anything faster than a slight trot. But, I really enjoyed it and, in the process, met an American woman called Pam who now lives about 5 miles from the Rio and cares for all sorts of stray/maltreated animals. The “wild” animals she has rescued include a Coatamundi, a Honey Bear, a Black faced Weasel [apparently quite rare], two Agouti and two foxes – all of which are now quite tame.

They share acres of living space with twenty three cats, three dogs, six horses and a pig called Freddy. Pam also runs a volunteer project which goes out into local communities taking worming tablets, antibiotics, flea injections and other basic animal medication which she distributes for free. Well, she doesn’t actually distribute it because she is concerned that the villagers would administer incorrect doses to their animals or, even worse, give them to their children many of whom unfortunately suffer the same diseases as animals. Some people might say – why treat animals and not children? Firstly, whilst there is only a very limited [and expensive] veterinary service there is actually quite a reasonable health system – though many Mayans don’t avail themselves of it and, more importantly, whilst her career as horse breeder/rancher has taught her about medicating animals she would not like to start injecting children. Sometimes a human worming formula [a lemon flavoured drink] is donated and she then takes volunteer nurses with her – two of whom are Cruisers. She also distributes donated shoes and clothes.

I went with her to two villages and, as well as the animal medicine, we also had lots of donated toothpaste and brushes [for humans!]. The deal was that any child coming to see us got tooth care products. Any child bringing an animal also got a small lollypop. Might seem as if she is fighting a losing battle with that strategy but the Mayan diet is full of sugar so the odd lollypop makes no real difference and it does encourage children, and sometimes adults, to bring their family pets.

I witnessed a few rather ingenious ways of getting the animals there – such as this fluffy panda backpack

and even the most reluctant made it!

I only discovered this volunteer opportunity about two weeks ago and, although being able to speak Spanish would help, it isn’t necessary – so I hope to contribute more next year.

Speaking of animals, as usual we have had our share of wildlife at Tijax. We have had owls nesting in the grounds….













….a small heron who fishes in the marina in the evening and decided that our deck was as good a place as any for his feast…

One day we came across a baby bat which had fallen onto the walkway….

….Stuart and I managed to move him under cover near to where we think he fell from and we just hope he made it OK. Two days later he wasn’t where we put him, but that may not have been a good sign with the owls around?

We have also had beautiful dragonflies come to rest on the boat. Several have chosen the guard rails…..

..but this one elected to spend time on the edge of our tent.

You might also remember me telling you about Howler Monkeys when we went to Tikal with Steve and Mary. We didn’t see any then, but when Steph’s mum visited we took an early morning dinghy ride down a small estuary about 20 minutes away….

And were rewarded by actually seeing a small family of “Howlers” – they are there – honest. Its a small photo courtesy of Steph who shrunk it for the e.mail and I can’t make it bigger!

So, folks, that’s it for now. We will be leaving Tijax in about a week and, internet access permitting, I will get back to you later this month to regale you with our passage from here to the Bay Islands.


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    • malc & Nik on December 3, 2013 at 8:31 am
    • Reply

    Thanks Guys! Another fascinating read 🙂 Mike let me know when you have your SSB up and running and we can try another connect (I know there is a radio term for that… IR something?). I must get on and install our SSB first though – and try to rope antenna. We have a bit of outer from an old rope through which to chuck the antenna wire. cheers

    • John & Catherine on December 11, 2013 at 2:01 pm
    • Reply

    Looks like you’ve been having a teriffic time – hope you are both well

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