Our little fleet of 3 sailboats (Neko, R&R Kedger, Second Wind) and 1 trawler (Pegasus) all departed Providencia for the Bay Islands of Honduras in the dark wee hours of January 13th.
We had one of the best sails of our career going 350 miles over the top of Nicaragua through little-travelled waters rumored to harbor pirates and drug runners. However, we only saw an occasional fishing boat or distant cargo ship and our little fleet was able to make radio contact with one another at times. We turned off the engines just outside Providencia and didn’t turn them back on again until we approached Guanaja, Honduras, 2 nights, 3 days later. We were making over 10 knots during the days and, even though we slowed down to 5 or 6 at night to get safely through the badly-charted, reef-strewn waters, we still had to slow down to a crawl at the end to be sure to make our final arrival in daylight. We are now in the land of uncharted coral reefs and need sun up in the sky to see and avoid them as we approach land.
Guanaja is the furthest east of Honduras’s bay islands. It is an interesting place where almost all of the population resides on a tiny island in the larger island’s lagoon. Bonacca town is really two islands long since connected by the construction of buildings, canals, bridges and other things. It is chock-a-block with small huts and the streets are for walking only. It has canals cutting through it where locals transport stuff by small boat.
It can be a little tough – one local told us a way for some to make a little cash is to find floating bales of cocaine and sell them to … someone … for $10,000 a bale. After questioning a number of locals it turns out this is a new distribution model for drug runners. Apparently, the USCG patrols the waters of the Bay Islands fairly thoroughly looking for drugs, but not so much the waters closer to Nicaragua that we had just traversed. There is a fairly steady current running west through those waters along Honduras through the Bay Islands toward Guatemala and Belize. The drug runners have hit upon the tactic of dumping a lot of bales of coke over in these waters and letting the current take them west. Locals know that they can find these bales and “sell” them to people who want them. Surely a number of bales get lost or picked up by authorities, but this method ensures some predictable number get through (as opposed to the cost and disruption of having one large shipment get caught) and entails some cost in buying the bales back from locals (although they are worth a lot more than $10,000, the locals seem to understand they get what they get). Anyway it was an interesting look at the cat and mouse game being played down here in the illegal drug industry.
Back to Guanaja. While most of the inhabitants live on this tiny island, the mountainous mainland is sparsely populated.
It has one tiny road and several cars, but the vast majority of people get around by boat. From sizeable ferries to one-man dugout canoes, there is a bewildering variety of boats plying these waters and rotting in the mangroves ashore.
One of our favorite stops ashore was Manati, a beautiful restaurant run by German ex-pats. How odd to find good, solid German food and cold weissbier in tall glasses in such a remote place, but we were hooked. Manati’s owners, Klaus and Annette, really make you feel welcome.
Their son, Roland, operates a local B&B but also runs tours on the island. He took us on a hike to see a waterfall on the sparsely populated windward side. Guanaja has abundant spring water and this creek and waterfall apparently flow year round.
After about a week, we sailed from Guanaja to Roatan, the largest of Honduras’s islands. Roatan is a much more touristy island. We stayed a week or so at Fantasy Island Marina, where Lucy was constantly harassed by three local monkeys. We even caught one on our boat one morning and Lucy and I chased it off, barking and yelling. There were also roosters strutting around, unafraid of the dog, and agoutis, small delicious-looking (at least to a dog) rodents, scampering all over.
This place was too much stimulus for Lucy and we had to get out. So swapping Mary, who flew out to Utah for Sundance and a stop in Texas, for my brother Chris, we set about leaving Roatan for Belize.
I would miss Mary, but what a treat to have Chris aboard for a while. He is our first stateside guest since California. We hope to have many more as we are now in accessible waters with good weather.
Checking into and out of countries is often a tiresome exercise in redundant paperwork, cab travel or walking, inscrutable fees, and sometimes mordida (small bribes). It can be a delightful look into local culture or a ridiculous waste of time. We were admitted to Honduras in Guanaja with an expired Coast Guard documentation certificate. This is not a big deal and we had used it in a few other countries. This certificate is renewed each year and it is sometimes difficult to get it to us on the boat. Anyway, when we went to check out, the port captain in Roatan, who deals more often with cruise ships than small boats and clearly enjoys exercising his authority, treated us like criminals. He confiscated our paperwork, told us the boat was impounded and not to move it and demanded a new, original version of the document before he would allow us to leave. $40 slipped into our passports and put on the table did not move him at all. When I told him there was no way we could get an original of the document sent to us here in any reasonable time, he said to get a letter from the Coast Guard explaining that a copy would suffice. When I told him I doubted this could be arranged, he said he had received such letters in the past. I did not believe him and after I spoke to the Coast Guard the next day it was confirmed as a lie when I was told the Coast Guard do not write such letters. We were really worried we’d be stuck in Honduras for weeks arranging to get a new certificate mailed to Mary’s folks in the US and then somehow shipped to us here. We even researched just leaving without exit papers and making the 1100 mile trip directly back to Key West.
However, the U.S. Coast Guard is an efficient outfit and, for a small fee and our statement that we were impounded in Honduras, they expedited the renewal of our certificate. It actually arrived by email within an hour of my contacting them by phone and submitting the paperwork. How’s that for a government agency that actually functions!? I didn’t have my letter but the certificate did have on it a legend stating that it was a certified copy of the original. Now I just had to convince the little Napolean in the port captain’s office to accept it. What a relief it was when Chris and I went back and there was a different officer there and he accepted the paperwork without question and processed our departure papers. We hurried back to cast off the lines and leave ASAP.