Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | April 28, 2013

The Longest Passage

N 16° 21.61′   W 86° 26.34′

Roatán, Honduras

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It took a month in San Andrés to find weather that suited us for our next passage. Sometimes Bob & I have different opinions on acceptable conditions for a short day trip, but for long passages we are definitely in sync. We want a forecast with as close to no wind and flat seas as possible.  Our time along the Colombian coast, where we sometimes had huge deviations from the expected, drilled home the point that we should plan a comfortable margin for error, especially on a multi-day journey.   A forecast of three to four-foot seas with 7 – 15 knot winds was about the best we were going to get on this leg without waiting a really long time, it seemed. We decided to skip a stop in Providencia and take the 3-day window to complete the long passage to Roatán, Honduras. We were feeling the urge to get this 420 miles behind us, and not anxious to spend another month or longer waiting in remote Providencia for the next opportunity.

The couple of pre-departure days were hectic. Why is that, since we knew when we got there that we were going to leave at some point?? Bob in his new extreme laid-back fashion left all of his chores until the last two days. He discovered a bad water pump on the port engine during his maintenance check. Good catch though, and with the replacement part aboard he got that repair done in a few hours and avoided having to deal with that problem at sea. A few last-minute provisions, passage meal prep, bottom scraping, scrubbing the anchor chain to get rid of a months worth of sea grass accumulation and a couple of hours getting checked out of Colombia and we were good to go.

Besides being our longest trip to date and facing the seas of the often rough Western Caribbean, this route held the challenge of traversing known drug-running territory with no friendly cruising ports along the way.  There were a couple of possible reef anchorage stops along the Nicaraguan/Honduras shoals, but we had ruled those out thinking it best to keep moving with a decent weather forecast. I wasn’t eager to linger in that area in any case.

It turned out to be a fine and almost boring passage. Day One we got started at 6 am, exited the San Andrés channel and moved offshore finding smoother waters. Other than a couple of tiny fishing boats at the edge of the channel, we saw no boats for the rest of the day, which was a strange feeling.  Maybe there really were submarines and submersibles, the latest in smuggling boats traveling beneath the sea?  At sunset we noticed a weird configuration on the horizon slowly moving back and forth across our path. After taking a couple of photos and enlarging them, we discovered it was a US Coast Guard ship, complete with helicopter on deck, patrolling the area west of Providencia, presumably assisting in stemming drug traffic headed via sea to North America. It was a most impressive vessel, unlike any of the local military boats we have seen in this region. Surely with no other boats out here we expected a radio call if not a boarding, but they were not interested in the Mar Azul. I suppose a trawler moving along at the pace of an energetic power walker didn’t look like much of a threat. From a selfish cruiser perspective, it was SO nice to see the US Coast Guard way out here, far from home, but it does seem a ridiculously huge expense and waste of resources to fund this sort of mission. After that, we saw two distant freighters heading in and out of Costa Rica including a Dole Colombia ship and that was the extent of the notable events for the day.

Day Two was timed to maximize daylight hours as we traversed the Nicaraguan & Honduran banks, an area of shallow seas dotted with reefs, rocks and small cays. There are several different routes through the banks that Bob and I had hashed over.  He is really a “hug the coast” kind of navigator whenever possible. He tends to trust the charts, even with the disclaimers printed all over them that the surveys they are based on are a poor and unreliable product. I think he would have attempted the Mosquito Channel, the most inside route, with any encouragement from me. It cuts the distance, provides a view of the coast and gives more protection from the seas. I was more aligned with the camp who prefer to stay well offshore and away from the whole mess of reputed pirates, drug-runners and reef-strewn waters even if it added a day to the trip. In the end we agreed upon one of several middle routes, staying just west of the Media Luna and Vivorillo Cays. We made a sharp unplanned jog through the Edinborough Channel when the Captain became sorely irritated with my query “are you SURE you really want to go smack between the Cock Rocks and Edinborough reef??” In the end the route worked out fine. We had no unexpected depths, saw absolutely no traffic the whole day, and had periods of calmer water as we motored behind the reefs. The only excitement was on my afternoon watch when I was sure I saw a waterspout forming immediately ahead, ready to drop from a small squall line that was on an intersecting course. Woke the Captain to get his call on whether it was best to turn hard to starboard, stop, or make a U-turn. Lesson learned here was in a true nap-time emergency just make a decision and execute. By the time Bob woke up, got oriented, found his glasses and said “huh?? where?” it was all over and the errant formation had disappeared in the clouds.

Day Three found us turning westward on a mostly downwind run. We shut down one engine for about 8 hours since we needed to slow our pace to avoid getting in to port before sunrise and that saved us a few gallons of fuel, too.  Our speed choices to coordinate our arrival at various waypoints are basically “Slow”, “Slower”, and “Drifting”. We bobbed along, and as in the two prior days, the morning conditions were the calmest and most pleasant. I could almost imagine being able to do this long enough to make an ocean crossing. But then the afternoon wind and seas stiffened a bit and I remembered that we had hand-picked these three days, the best three of the month, to make this trip. On an ocean crossing you mostly have to take what you are given after the first couple of days. No way, that would never work for me. Although I did not feel sick, I could accomplish only the bare minimum tasks: retrieving food from the fridge without letting everything roll out, heating pre-made meals, making coffee & tea, feeding the dogs, filling water jugs, washing a couple of bowls and utensils, cleaning the doggie potty deck, navigating the stairs to get to the bathroom and taking my turns monitoring the helm. Personal hygiene went mostly out the window and I didn’t manage a shower and change of clothes until just prior to arrival. Bob did better than I in that regard. Reading and listening to tapes were the extent of leisure activities and while I wanted to start this blog post under way, I didn’t feel like sitting down at a computer. The amount of energy it takes to keep your body at some sort of equilibrium while under way is hard to describe.

Maybe I’ve read too many crime and piracy reports, but the idea of island and port-hopping through Honduras did not at all appeal to me. Most of the worst crime against cruising boats has occurred near the mainland, where several Honduran cities boast the highest murder rates in the world.  The Bay Islands have a better reputation, but they have had some problems too. The Admiral’s decree was that if we were going to stop in Honduras we would avoid the mainland ports, skip the island of Guanaja, go direct to Roatán and stay in a marina rather than anchoring out. Bob says I am paranoid, but until we get better local knowledge that’s my level of comfort. I’m sure most of the people here are decent and honest but we boaters stick out and are generally perceived as wealthy in contrast to the very poor population.

We arrived as scheduled on Friday morning after 75 hours of travel at Fantasy Island, a charming place that promises to live up to its name and be another highlight on our trek back to Florida.

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Farewell to our San Andres comrades. We would have enjoyed having travel buddies but are all on a different schedule and it is hard to coordinate plans and speeds with another power vessel, much less a sailboat. We felt prepared to tackle this one alone.

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Sunrise 4/23 and we are ready to go!

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Sea conditions weren’t absolutely perfect, but we were pleased that the reality resembled the forecast. Can’t ask for much better than this in this part of the world.

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The only vessel we encountered on this route, a very capable buddy boat if only for a short segment

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Swear I saw a funnel cloud in there . . .

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Our pals did pretty well too, and even learned to share the coveted blue rug

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The only pirates who got aboard were a flock of strange little birds who tried to take over the ship. They were not too bright and couldn’t figure out the nav computer.  Two of them swooped in to check out Lady and quickly met their demise.

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Arrival in Roatan’s French Cay Harbor, Q flag flying, signifying quarantine status until we are officially checked in to the country.

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Responses

  1. We were just talking about you guys this afternoon! I was saying to Don that we had not heard from you in a while and that you were on you looooong passage. Not an hour later we got your email! We are so happy for you that is was a smooth, relaxed passage. Mar Azul has been amazing! Like the “little engine that could”. We expect to be in FL ourselves around the New Year… we must catch up with you then…

    Barb & Don Cavin
    Cavara
    DeFever 49 RPH

    • Yes, we are happy that this passage went well. Having plenty of time to wait it out and find a really calm travel window was key for us. I can only imagine that even the “average” day out here is pretty brutal in a small boat. We should probably post a few text updates via sat phone while we are under way just for fun. I followed our friends John & Kathy each day on their 19-day Pacific crossing and it was fascinating. Our little passages are relatively short and often boring and probably would not make for very exciting reading. Bob says “hello” and we will look forward to seeing you in FL!

  2. I loved this blog entry – especially knowing you guys made it safely. Enjoy!

    • Thanks, Jeff! Definitely glad that this one was uneventful. One more big passage to go, across the Gulf of Mexico!

  3. Hello, we have been following your blog for a while and loved the way you describe your experience while in Colombia. We were wondering if you were interested on featuring in our blog. If you are interested please get in touch and we will send you more details by email. Wishing you all the best on the rest of your journey home.


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