It is now nearly the end of January  and we are still in the Bay Islands of Honduras, having sailed only 220 miles since leaving Fronteras [Rio Dulce] six and a half weeks ago. Even after crossing the Atlantic in 2011 we only stayed for about 4 weeks in Barbados before moving off and, after the hurricane season of 2012, we sailed 830 miles from Grenada at the bottom of the Windward Islands to Puerto Rico by January. So…. what is going on?
It could be that we have slowed down “naturally” as many cruisers do – but it wasn’t our plan to still be here – so it’s [probably] not that. Therefore, as you may have guessed from the title of this post – it’s more about “Highs” and “Lows” – be they weather, boat related or events!
Definite high points, which have to be linked to weather, are the lovely sunsets which we have seen throughout the time we have been here. Maybe it is because in the Rio we weren’t facing west and therefore didn’t see many or maybe it is that they are just lovely…..
Meanwhile, on the low weather side, we have been told that 2014 seems to be developing as an “El Niño” year – which occurs every three to seven years. As I understand it this means that the Easterly [Atlantic] Trade Winds are weaker thus allowing warm tropical Westerly Trades to move in across the Pacific with, apparently, worldwide changes to normal weather patterns. There is already talk of droughts being likely in Australia and lower than average monsoons in Asia. We heard on the radio a couple of mornings ago that there is a “once in a lifetime” system of extreme cold weather crossing the USA with wind chill temperatures in Wisconsin of minus 50 degrees and sleet and snow around Florida. Now, whether it is an “El Niño” year or not, we have experienced rather more [according to those cruisers who have been here at this time of year before] of what are called “Northers” coming through creating some nasty sailing conditions. They also create rather nasty anchoring conditions as well – but I will get on to that later. What happens is that a Cold Front develops in the US, comes across the Gulf of Mexico and the Yucatan Peninsula and hits the whole area from Mexico down to Honduras. Whilst the winds from the North are actually in a great direction for travelling west to east, their speed – at up to Gale Force create pretty big seas and the squalls which follow the cold front are really great fun – with wind shifts of 180 degrees fairly common. Friends who braved one of these fronts tore large holes in their mainsail within 12 hours of leaving – and that was just during the aftermath of the worst winds. Once the “Norther” has gone through, the wind veers back to the East as the Trade Winds try to assert themselves which means that for about 150miles [from the Bay Islands to the Vivarillos] it is basically head to wind.
Something else which happens is that the Port Captain cancels all “Zarpe” until he feels it is safe for shipping to leave port. It doesn’t just affect the small cruising boats, – he stops everything – the shrimp boats, the ferries and the cargo boats which bring fresh produce from the mainland. Funnily enough, he doesn’t seem to stop the cruise ships! But, given that a Zarpe is a condition of entry into any other country [except, apparently, a US boat going to the US] we can’t leave without one.
Therefore the trick seems to be to either get a Zarpe just before an “underdeveloped” Cold Front arrives [or one that is likely to dissipate before it gets to Honduras], or to find a period of Trade Winds where the wind is light.
We probably missed such a weather opportunity between Xmas and New Year – but, as the previous post described – that was a time of “event” highs with parties and fun. As I write this post we are still at anchor during another weather opportunity but a boat related “low” prevents us leaving – i.e. we are waiting for a new alternator regulator to arrive from the US.
But never mind that for now because I said above that I would come back to interesting anchoring conditions……so read on.
A couple of days after New Year, “Chris Parker” – who is the weather guru for the Caribbean and who broadcasts daily [except Sunday] via SSB advised that we were going to get some rough weather. It was forecast to “hit” the Bay Islands round about the 7th January. On Monday January 6th we awoke to a mix of sunshine and showers…
Occasional light showers passed over during the day and the wind began to build steadily from the North. By about 5pm, the clouds were beginning to thicken and, as you may be able to see, most boats had safely stowed outboards, raised their tenders and/or put them on deck and taken down additional windage stuff, such as rain catchers, in anticipation of the blow.
It was not a good night; we spent most of it awake as two of the three boats surrounding us dragged their anchors. One ended up sideways on a sandbank and had to be towed off by a dive boat the following morning…..
… the other managed to raise his anchor and move away without catching our chain. It looked like a close call – but everything does look worse when you are tired, its pitch black and pouring down! We finally got to sleep for a couple of hours at about 5am and then spent the rest of the day watching either rain or drizzle [very Lake District] as the wind continued to blow at around 25k. [It had been 35+ during the night].
The wind dropped as dusk approached and remained N/NE at around 20k until 5.30am when it suddenly did a 180 degree shift to the SW and increased to 35k [with 40k+ gusts]. I was out of bed and up into the cockpit like a rat up a drainpipe as soon as I felt the boat movement. Fortunately, as you can see from the photograph of our anchor alarm, we “stuck”….
Unfortunately our friends on Coquina weren’t so lucky and at 7.30am they came over the radio asking for assistance. We had our dinghy on deck but luckily JD [who was berthed at Fantasy Island Marina] heard the call, was able to launch his and pick Mike up. They, along with another cruiser went to the rescue. Mike and the other guy were able to raise the anchor – it took the two of them hauling together – and then Becky helped direct Jon to a mooring ball whilst JD clung on in his dinghy until he could move forward to pay Coquina’s mooring lines through the ball.
It remained choppy throughout the day……
but dropped again in the evening to a manageable 25k. I don’t think the photographs – or my description – do the storm justice. It was probably the most sustained “blow” we have had since arriving in the Caribbean and, although it was tiring being up for the most part of 48 hours, we probably gained in experience as a result.
For any cruisers reading this who are either in the Caribbean or heading this way who have SSBs but don’t know about Chris Parker, listen as follows:
UTC/GMT 11.00am – 8137.0
UTC/GMT 11.30am – 4045.0
UTC/GMT 12.30pm – 8104.0
UTC/GMT 1.30pm – 12350.0
UTC/GMT 2.00pm – 6221.0
[He is quite often “late” in broadcasting so listen in for around 10 minutes after the above time before deciding you can’t hear him]
You might be wondering why I wrote earlier that [currently] waiting for a new part to arrive from the US is a situational low. Well, I guess that waiting for the part isn’t – but the hassle which preceded it was. You will recall that the alternator belt slipped just after we left the Rio. It then did it again when we got to the Bay Islands – so Mike analysed the problem and decided we needed to modify the alternator bracket. We have two alternators, the original – which we had renovated whilst in the Rio – and the larger [size and performance] second hand one which we bought in St. Lucia. Mike decided that rather than continue to struggle to tighten the belt sufficiently on the new alternator [within the constraints of the original bracket] that a longer bracket, allowing for more adjustment, would be better [and wouldn’t be a problem should the original alternator have to be put back on]. So, he went walkabout to the small village of French Harbour, asked around, and was finally able to find a “metal basher” who produced, at the amazing cost of £6, exactly what we wanted.
So, you may be thinking, what is the problem with that? Well, nothing except that when we decided to make a small trip up the Roatan coast the alternator again stopped charging the domestic batteries and we realised that what we thought was a solution wasn’t because the diagnosis of the problem was incorrect. We anchored off a small village called “Jonesville” and Mike then spent two days twisted into various positions in the engine room trying once again to work out the problem. He finally concluded that it was electrical but he wasn’t sure what – so it was back to French Harbour to get a “professional” opinion. We found an excellent electrician called “Pedro” who spends 6 months of the year working in the US and/or on Oil Rigs. When at home in Roatan he is quite happy to mess about on the “little boats” and, for a couple of beers and about £27, he took our alternator to his workshop to give it a full test, spent four hours with Mike diagnosing the problem [it was one of the diodes in the alternator regulator and a solid state relay stopping switching when under load] and making a temporary fix. We could continue to sail with this fix [basically the starter battery and the windlass/inverter battery are now both on one of the two working diodes and the domestic battery bank on the other] but because some relations of our friends JD and Linda are holidaying in Roatan from Feb 3rd it was possible for us to order a new one and have it delivered.
Mike learnt quite a lot from Pedro and now has a new “want” item on his list – a better multimeter with a DC Amp tester as well as AC!
The plan when we sailed up to Jonesville was to take dinghy trips along the” Roatan Inland Waterway” – which is a narrow cut running behind the reef, through mangroves and around small Cays. Given that most of the time away was spent on the alternator we only managed about 1 hour off the boat but these photos give a hint of what it is like….
Jonesville itself is really picturesque….
….and we saw a lovely macaw just perched in a tree.
….and there is a famous Sunday BBQ at a small waterside restaurant bar called “McNabs”. We came across it on our dinghy ride and Mike was told all about the BBQ taking place the following day but, for the reasons fully outlined above, we didn’t get there.
Something we were here for was the rather unusual occurrence of the International Space Station passing over the Island, literally right above the anchorage. As it happened it was a really clear night and we were able to see it. If you didn’t know it was taking place you probably wouldn’t notice what looked like a very fast moving star but we had been given the time it would appear and the direction it would come from and it was exactly correct. So, no photo but it was quite interesting.
Another event “high” was the marriage celebration of “Floor” and “Judith”….
….a Dutch couple who actually married a couple of weeks before this party but who wanted to include cruisers in their celebration. Very generously they provided some lovely food and the bar was also on them, so we clubbed together for a gift. There didn’t seem to be any Congratulations cards available so one enterprising young yachty created this “Picture Card” which we all signed….
Oh – and just a couple of final words. Firstly, about weather “highs” and “lows” – when the barometer drops in this part of the world it generally indicates better sailing weather. That took a bit of getting used to but, having panicked on a couple of occasions when the barometer plummeted whilst we were crossing from Guatemala, we have learned to stay calm. Guess that, as we move around the globe, we will continue to learn all the vagaries of forecasting!
Secondly, we are about to leave for another three day trip up the Roatan coastline – and the McNab BBQ is part of the plan!