Sailing Trip From Guatemala to Panama
October 26, 2011 to November 16, 2011

by Terry Welsh

Day 1

This has been your average travel day.

It began with Clara driving me to the airport in San Francisco. She was trying to have a conference call for work while I was complaining about her tailgating. She had her iPhone on speaker mode, but I could barely understand a word that her coworkers were saying. I held the phone near her ear, making me her hands-free device.

Clara is very jealous of my sailing trip adventure, and I will miss her. Hopefully she will become a proficient swimmer so that she can go on a trip like this in the future.

Adrian Agogino and I had the same flight from SFO, so we met by the boarding gate. It was an easy trip to Houston where we met up with Pierre Henry. Then we got our second flight to Guatemala City.

We had seats close to one another on the plane and conversed a lot with the other passengers. Everyone seemed excited to be going on vacation. I watched the in-flight movie Zookeeper, but it was too predictable and the sound was cutting out every few seconds.

After the flight I was talking to Crazy George. He is a member of the Magic Castle in Los Angeles and gave me a pass to get in. Maybe Clara and I can get a reservation and go next time we are in Claremont. George said he had worked as a baggage handler for United and now had some amazing amount of frequent flyer miles, so he travels the world giving magic shows at orphanages.

A fellow named Frankie picked us up at the airport in Guatemala City. It was a short drive to the Quetzalroo Hostel. They appear to run a good operation here. We got rooms and arranged a ride to the bus station tomorrow.

Pierre had a smoke on the roof and explained to me how to take a shower on a sailboat. You get a bucket of salt water, scrub yourself clean with it on the deck, and then rinse off with fresh water from the tank on board coming out a hose.

We tried to get a beer, but the refrigerator was locked up. Manuel, who runs the place, had already disappeared for the night. So I brushed my teeth and settled down on a couch in the hall to work on this journal.

My plan it to number each day as I write journal entries. Today is Wednesday, October 26, 2011, but I don't want to write down any more dates. I always feel more like I am on vacation if I can forget the date and day of the week.

Day 2

The bed in the Quetzalroo hostel was fairly comfortable and it was quiet, but I still only slept a tiny bit. Adrian, who I was sharing a room with, didn't even snore. He slept like the dead. Wonderful.

In the morning I got a quick cold shower. It appeared that there was an electric heater for the water, but I couldn't make it work.

Then I met Blanca in the dining area of the hostel. I believe she worked there, but I'm not certain. She was nice and made me some toast. Her English was about as good as my Spanish—quite poor. So we had fun communicating.

We got a few Quetzals from the ATM at the hospital across the street.

Marcos (I believe he is Manuel's brother) gave us a ride to the bus station. He told us a little about politics and corruption in Guatemala, but it was difficult to pick up details all the way in the back of the van.

The bus ride was a very uneventful seven hours, and we eventually arrived in Río Dulce. I believe Río Dulce is the name of the town, the region, and the river at this location.

Tom met us at the bus station and we headed off to buy provisions for the boat trip. I gather that "provisions" is the boating term for "groceries."

Tom Marlow is our captain, the owner of the boat, Ketch 22.

Tom and I rode Ketch 22 's dinghy back to Monkey Bay Marina. It's too small for four people, so Adrian and Pierre took a water taxi. Ketch 22 has been docked at Monkey Bay Marina for months or maybe a year.

Monkey Bay Marina is a pleasant place along the river, about a ten minute dinghy ride from Río Dulce. There have been problems with violent criminals in the past. In fact, a couple was murdered on their boat, which was anchored in Monkey Bay. Tom tells me that this was a crime perpetrated by the Queen of the River and her gang. Not to long after, the queen herself, her son, and two other gang members turned up dead.

Since Tom has been here (about the last four weeks), one dinghy has been stolen from Monkey Bay Marina and another from a nearby marina. This surprises me since Monkey Bay Marina is not accessible by land. You must arrive by boat.

Anyway, Tom's conclusion is that the locals will tolerate robbery, but not murder. It sounds like no tourists have been harmed since that last incident. At Monkey Bay Marina we wasted no time making margaritas for happy hour. I guess all the residents of the marina get together around sunset for a little social hour.

I was mostly speaking with the harbor master John. He has been at Monkey Bay Marina for eight years. He originally sailed from Florida and intended to settle in Aruba, but he found work here and remained.

John says this is the only place in the region that is sheltered from hurricanes. It has something to do with the way the wind flows out of the river valley into the Caribbean. He also says the best remedy for motion sickness is to sit down at the wheel of the boat and start steering. And never, ever go below deck—this will only make it worse.

When the mosquitoes became to annoying, we headed back to Ketch 22. We chatted about politics, the stock market, bad food in France, and all sorts of other nonsense.

Tom's wife Naty had told him that everyone was required to call home and tell their loved ones they had made it to the boat. Tom set me up with Skype on his computer and I called Clara. She has come down with a bad cold and didn't go to work today. Her interview for citizenship is tomorrow so I hope she feels better.

Tomorrow we set sail. Yeah!!

Day 3

We didn't set sail. Darn! But we're working on it. Actually, I learned that the plan was not to set sail today. The plan was to motor most of the way to Livingston, the point at the end of the river where we check out of Guatemala. Actual sailing would happen on the following day after we were out in the ocean.

Anyway, none of that matters because it all went to hell anyway.

I went to bed with a budding headache and sore throat. It was probably a combination of dehydration and whatever Clara had when I left. There was a loud fan running below deck and it was far too hot with no air movement at all. I tried to sleep for hours, but to no avail. My assigned bunk was a small elevated slot with a cushion on the starboard side of the boat. It was tight and hard to climb into but would have been usable in the right conditions.

Eventually not sleeping and the head and my headache were too annoying. I sat on the dock and sipped water. At some point the local Monkey Bay Marina dog started barking. And then the neighbor dogs started up as well. I was being nearly silent, but dogs ears are awfully sensitive.

When my head felt a bit better I laid down on one of the benches by the steering wheel. It took a while but I got to sleep. Later I woke up because it was getting colder. Down below it was close to tolerable, so I got a little more sleep. But I was still up in plenty of time to see the sunrise.

When the day got rolling I took off the sail covers and did a few other small chores. The sail covers protect the sails when they are bundled up on the booms for long periods.

Figure 1.
I learned that there are no ropes on sailboats, only "lines." Sailors have a lot of lingo that must be followed. In order to bundle up a line for storage, you arrange it as shown in Figure 1. First you coil up most of the rope into long, thin coils (about two feet long is normal), making sure to leave several feet to work with. With the remaining length, wrap the coils tightly four or five times. Poke a loop through the original long coils, and pass the end of the line through that loop. Pull the final loop and end tight. This will keep the line well organized and prevent it from becoming tangled with the other lines alongside which it is stored.

Figure 2.
For bundling the sail covers for storage I used the knot shown in Figure 2. This allows you to make a loop that can be tightened but will not loosen as long as there is tension on the loop.

Actually, I did this with lanyards. Lanyards are like lines but much thinner. Tom has a collection of these on Ketch 22 just in case something random needs to be bound.

Tom and I took the dinghy to town to get some final provisions that we neglected to get the day before. We also picked up some fried chicken for lunch. There are a lot of fat people in Río Dulce. I wonder if it is partly due to the glut of fried chicken restaurants there.

Around noon we headed off on the boat. First we stopped for gas. We had set aside enough money to pay the customs fees when leaving Guatemala. With the remainder we bought some cold drinks because it was about 90°F and humid on the river. The store at the gas dock had everything we needed.

About an hour or two down the river, Tom announced that his voltage meter was not showing a high enough voltage and he was worried that the batteries weren't charging properly.

After a short time trying to diagnose the problem, Tom decided to turn the boat around. It was a bad idea to head out on the open ocean with a power problem.

We worked hard in the nasty heat of the engine compartment all the way back to Monkey Bay Marina. At some point we found that a part called a split charge diode had partly melted. It was used to protect the boat's two battery banks from one another in case one failed. We called it the red box because it was basically a big red metal heat sink with some electrical posts on it for connecting wires.

Tom took the busted red box to the local marine parts store, but they said it would take two or three weeks to get a new one. A local boat expert at Monkey Bay said we could bypass the box entirely. If we needed to use the backup battery, we would just have to switch to it manually by rewiring.

Tom and Adrian got to work on that, but it didn't fix the problem.

Pierre made Chicken Adobo for dinner, and Tom made margaritas. Mmmmm.

Things were looking dire. We had measured the voltage on everything in the electrical system and studied manuals for the different parts. Eventually, Tom replaced the alternator belt, which Adrian had noticed was showing its age. That fixed it.

Hurrah! We're back in business. It was well after dark by this point. Everyone was wiped out but elated about finding a solution. Up to that point it was really looking like the end of the sailing adventure.

We reformulated our plan and decided to leave early the next morning so that we could check out of Guatemala and catch up with our original schedule.

Boats are maintenance nightmares. Of course, Tom had thoroughly tested all the boat systems during the four weeks he had already spent on the boat. Problems like this tend to show up at the worst possible time.

Day 4

Tom and Pierre and I were up before sunrise. I enjoyed one last shower at Monkey Bay Marina. They had pretty nice showers and bathrooms for a random marina on the side of a river in Guatemala.

Adrian work up when we started the engine. It sure would be nice to sleep as easily as he. I probably slept for an hour above deck and an hour below deck.

All systems were nominal, so we motored all the way to Livingston. This took us all the was up the Río Dulce river valley. We saw cliffs, dense jungle, many types of birds, and hundreds of riverside dwellings. Most of these were small houses with rooftops made out of the reeds that grew all around the river. Many of them were accompanied by docks and boat houses. We saw plenty of fishermen paddling their kayaks and throwing nets. There were also tourists, commuters, and schoolchildren cruising around in motorboats. The children appeared to be riding the river version of school buses.

In Livingston I chauffeured Tom and Adrian to shore in the dinghy. They checked us out of Guatemala customs and got more fried chicken for lunch from Super Pollo Express.

Some of the people at Monkey Bay Marina had told me that a sailing trip is about 50% motoring. They were right. We motored all the way from Livingston and headed for Roatán. I took the first watch and took us into the Bay of Honduras, around Cabo Tres Puntas.

Pierre made an excellent salad for supper from fresh vegetables, hard boiled eggs, and some sort of balsamic-vinegar based dressing that he whipped up. I would like to try cooking on the boat, but I still have a cold and should stick to washing dishes for the time being.

Pierre grew up in Algeria and France. His family left Algeria when he was six, a few years before the revolution. His parents thought things were getting too violent. He was also lived in Fresno and Sacramento, so he has had a wide range of culinary influences. He clearly likes to cook, and I suspect that's one of the reasons Tom invited him along.

I tried to get a couple hours of sleep before my next watch, but it was pointless. I'm a light sleeper and the diesel engine on the boat growls much to loudly.

My watch was between 8 and 10 P.M., well after dark. With four of us on the boat, we would each have two hours on watch and six hours off.

It was both exciting and serene to cruise past the Mosquito Coast with nothing around but water. As the boat stirred up the water, bioluminescent creatures sparkled with a light green hue. I could see the glow of cities about twenty miles south on the coast of Honduras. It was too far away to make out individual city lights most of the time.

The purpose of the watch is to keep us on course and prevent us from colliding with other boats or anything else in the water. About a third of the way through the watch, a bright light appeared almost directly ahead on the horizon, al little to the left.

It took five or ten minutes for me to detect any change in brightness or position, suggesting that it was very large.

When traveling at a constant speed and heading, you can line up an object on the horizon with some part of your own boat. If you detect no parallax between these things, then the object is either headed directly away from you or, more likely, directly toward you.

Boats have nav lights. There is a red light on the port side (left), and a green one on the starboard side (right). Depending on which light or lights you can see and their orientation to one another, you can tell which way the boat is facing.

Figure 3. All lights are white unless indicated otherwise.
All of this is useful information for avoiding collisions. The object I was watching very slowly drifted to the right, but this can be difficult to detect on a small boat that sways much. It took about a half hour to actually pass it. The radar screen on Ketch 22 showed it as being a little over two miles away. It had the pattern of lights shown in Figure 3. Unfortunately it was too dark out to see any other features.

The two top lights were extremely bright, and this was an enormous vessel. I thought it was a cruise ship, but Pierre later told me that they light up like Christmas trees, even at night. This was probably a barge or tanker.

Only one other boat passed during my watch, but it was much smaller. It's neat to think they are watching you the same way you are watching them.

Tom came up out of the cabin for his watch, so I didn't need to wake him up. I showed him the one boat to the south that was already moving past us. I tried to go below and sleep, but it was pointless as usual. With the boat moving at a steady five or five and a half knots, there was a good breeze moving from the hatches to the back door. But, somehow, the air in the port and starboard sleeping bunks was still and hot.

Day 5

I came up on deck when Adrian was just starting his watch from midnight until 2 A.M. There were dark clouds dead ahead. After a few minutes it began to rain and the sea became quite choppy.

Down in the cabin, I battened down the hatches. While there, I spied one of the soft swivel chairs mounted to the floor. I sat in it for about ten minutes hoping that sleep would come. It didn't work, and the extra rocking motion made me feel like I might get sick.

I snarfed down a piece of candied ginger to try to prevent any impending motion sickness. Then I went and stood on the ladder leading up to the deck. It was the best place to have a view of the horizon and stay out of the rain.

After the first line of storms the sky got crowded with scattered rainstorms and we didn't see stars again for hours.

Pierre's watch started at 2 A.M. By that point the rain had stopped, but the sea was still choppy. The waves and wind were coming from the north, and we were traveling east, so there was a constant rolling motion back and forth between -15 and 15 degrees. Or even -30 and 30 degrees on some of the bigger swells.

Since the rain had stopped I was trying to doze off on one of the benches next to the steering wheel. The breezy night air got me a lot closer to sleeping that the warm air below.

Oh, I almost forgot, during Adrian's watch we saw birds or bats whizzing around the nav lights at the top of the mast. We couldn't figure out why they were out there miles and miles from shore. Maybe the storms blew them there from some nearby island.

Around 2:30 Tom came up on deck and was impressed by the amount of wind. He said we should put the sail up. It was rainy and miserable, and there were more ugly dark clouds up ahead, and we were all way too tired, but apparently the wind was too good to pass up.

Tom grabbed a flashlight, hooked himself to the safety line that ran the length of the deck and went to the bow to prepare the mainsail. The main mast on a cat-ketch is all the way forward at the bow.

When he signaled, Pierre turned the boat north into the wind under engine power. This lets the wind slip past the sail without filling it so there is no extra tension on the lines to deal with.

I pulled the halyard (the line that hoists the mainsail) as far as I could by hand and then wrapped it around the winch for extra leverage. On Tom's signals I also had to pull and release tension on the reef line, which prevents the sail from raising to its full hight. I guess Tom thought there was too much wind for that or the storm conditions were too unpredictable.

This was all a messy, iterative process involving Pierre correcting our heading frequently, Tom tweaking the sail and lines, and me taking commands about which lines to put on the winches. The headlamp that Clara game me one Christmas proved its worth since I was using one hand on the boat to keep myself from getting knocked over while cranking the winches with the other hand. Unfortunately the bright lamp was lighting the lines just fine but blinding me from the horizon. This was a persistent problem inching me ever closer to sea sickness. And every time I stuck my head out for a new command from Tom I could hear him cursing at some boat part or see him vanish behind the water that was exploding up around the bow.

Maybe things would have been better if I knew how to sail or knew the names of all the lines.

About a half hour after we started the sail was raised. Pierre turned the boat back on course and cut the engine. Now we were cruising at about seven knots instead of five.

Tom and I got to work coiling up the lines that we had used to keep them organized. We were both winded badly from physical exertion and sleep deprivation. Before I finished coiling the halyard, I handed it to Tom and lunged for the side of the boat.

Sadly, I was stilled hooked to the safety line on the port side and knew I didn't have enough slack to make it to the starboard side. So I puked into the wind, getting about half of dinner in the water and the other half on my arm, the deck, and a little on Pierre's legs.

Once I caught my breath I used a bucked on a rope to collect sea water and clean things up. Pierre joked that I was going to tell everyone it was because of his dinner. I was just relieved that it took a full-on high seas adventure to finally get me sick.

Raising the sail had a strong stabilizing effect on the boat. It still moved up and down with the swells, but the rocking motion was drastically reduced. By the way, this only works with a sufficient amount of wind. If there isn't enough, the sail loses tension and the rocking motion returns.

I was in bad shape when my shift started at 4 A.M. Pierre let me try to doze off a little longer and then tried to explain some new considerations for watch while under sail. You can't make turns as sharp as you can under engine power, so course corrections to avoid other boats might take more thought. Also, big gusts could sometimes shut off the autopilot which maintained your heading.

I had a banana before I got started. We watched a big barge move by. It looked a lot like the one in Figure 3 on Day 4. On the choppy sea it was much harder to judge which way other boats were moving. We got to see more detail in this barge because the sky was starting to light up.

Now at a depth of thousands of feet, the water looked like dark blue paint, nothing like the greens, browns, and aqua colors you see at the beach. It was stunning, and I could stare at it for a long time.

When Tom started his shift at 6 A.M. I headed below to try to sleep again. It was cooler now and quieter without the engine. But there was much more motion than before. The ocean swells were about four feet tall with some rising to about eight.

I laid there for three hours, totally conscious. Ug. Why can't I get some sleep? At first it was very restful to just lie there, but it eventually became too annoying because of the rough sea.

Up on deck I hung out with Pierre and Adrian. We had passed Isla Útila and could see Roatán up ahead. At about six knots, the boat was rocking more than the night before and we had hours to go.

Adrian gave me some turkey jerky. I took one bite and threw up, this time over the downwind side of the boat. After recovering, I finished it and had a bottle of Gatorade too. It felt great to get something into my empty stomach.

Hours later we made it to Roatán. Adrian and I pulled down the sail and we motored into one of the bays.

Pierre made some excellent spaghetti and meat sauce. I cleaned up what everyone else couldn't. The last real meal I had had was twenty-four hours earlier, but I had expelled that one. I was HUNGRY.

After dinner I took a swim beside the boat and rinsed off the sea water with water from the boat's tank.

Now I'm finishing up a day and a half of journal entries. We're anchored in the bay where it's very quiet. We have not checked into Honduras yet so we're not allowed to just leave the boat and wander around. I can see the lights from the island and hear distant music from clubs.

Day 6

We woke up still anchored in French Harbor, but the boat had dragged to a different location in the harbor. Sleep had been sporadic with all the wind and rain knocking on the boat all night.

Tom talked to Jimmy the harbor master on the radio. Jimmy said it would likely rain all day long, so we decided to dock the boat in the rain instead of waiting all day for the rain to let up. We got quite wet, but that doesn't seem like a big deal anymore We docked at Fantasy Island, a beach resort on its own little sub-island separated from Roatán proper by a short bridge.

Adrian and I had a beer and waited for the restaurant in the hotel to open for lunch. I also sent some emails on Pierre's computer.

In the lobby we met a guy named Kurt who had left the Unites States because he thought the government was decaying and wanted to sail around looking for a better place to live. He sounded very well read and was extremely talkative. Tom and Pierre got tired of talking with him first, but Adrian and I kept going. He even joined us for lunch. I think he was quite lonely.

Later on he told us about the time he was having doubts about his marriage while hiking a very treacherous trail called Na-Pali Coast on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. He said he prayed for a sign to help him figure out what to do. A little ways down the trail he and his wife saw a fellow in jeans and a bright white shirt sitting on a boulder looking out to sea, and glowing. He was communicating telepathically with some whales out in the ocean, trying to reassure them that humans would get their act together soon and stop polluting the oceans and mucking up the planet. Kurt knew all this because the guy in white let him into his mind so that he could listen in on the conversation. When Kurt realized that this was Jesus, he wanted to bow down, but Jesus said he didn't like all the bowing stuff and basically told Kurt that everything would be alright.

As they walked away, Kurt and his wife exchanged a few words and realized that they had both concluded that the glowing man was Jesus. When they turned around he was gone. They went back to the boulder, but Jesus was nowhere to be found, and there was no place he could have gone to hide in such a short time. He had simply vanished.

Some time later, Kurt and his wife divorced. You meet the most interesting people while traveling.

Kurt had plenty of other stuff to say too. He liked to talk politics, hoping that Ron Paul would win the 2012 presidential election. He said the Fantasy Island owner was a businessman from Spain with a really expensive sixty-foot yacht. He was doing a poor job of running the resort because he had just invested a lot of money beautifying the resort grounds instead of repairing the hotel rooms. This is why there were so few people at the resort. Truly, the resort feels like a ghost town. Kurt also talked about another Spaniard docked at the resort on a semi-permanent basis. He is a drug addict who has been banned from most parts of the resort but still manages to pay his dock rent. He likes to befriend resort guests with the intention of leeching free drinks and meals off of them. We're told to watch out for that guy.

Fantasy Island has lots of critters roaming around. There are turkeys, geese, chickens, peacocks, capuchin monkeys, and guatusas. Guatusas are also known as wild island rabbits. They are brown and have the size and movement of rabbits, but they are shaped more like guinea pigs or rats with no tails and bulbous hind sections.

Before dark I sat down in an open air section of the lobby that looked out over the beach. I started reading Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, which Lisa loaned me a long time ago. I lked the first sixty-five pages a lot.

It's still raining, and a bat just flew through the lobby.

Day 7

I actually got some decent sleep last night, if not continuous. The boat was steadier the night before because it was anchored. Being anchored means that it will drift to point directly into the wind, the same direction from which the waves are coming. Since the waves are moving down the long axis of the boat, the boat has more stability. Last night the boat was docked and the waves were coming from the starboard, so it rolled a lot more than it had pitched the night before. Despite this, the bunks were much cooler—perhaps because we had only run the engine briefly in the morning—and I was able to sleep better.

Tom checked the weather again and was still of the opinion that we should depart Roatán on Day 8. Due to the fuel shortage (which was most likely the misidentification of Fantasy Island's delinquent fuel payments) we planned to travel to Guanaja, the next island available, slightly out of the way, but only about eight hours from Roatán.

We went to town to get lunch and groceries. Er, provisions. (Everything has it's proper name on a boat.) The cab ride was far too expensive. They charge per person. And Adrian lost his cell phone in the cab.

Adrian headed back to Fantasy Island in another cab to try to call his phone and maybe retrieve it. Pierre, Tom, and I went looking for lunch. The area we were in had a Pizza Inn, and a Bojangles, which is another fried chicken place that I believe originated in the southeast United States. We picked Pizza Inn. I'm afraid that I was duped by their deceptive marketing and thought we were in a Pizza Hut for a long time until Tom told me otherwise. (Their signage was a blatant rip-off of Pizza Hut's.) That explained why the pizza wasn't so good. We should have gone to Bojangles.

There is some awesome joke to be made here about the Pizza of the Caribbean, but can't think of it.

We got groceries provisions for five or six days and headed back to Fantasy Island in another overpriced cab. Adrian was waiting in the cockpit of Ketch 22. He had forgotten to get the key to the cabin from Tom. Ug.

Adrian got someone at the hotel to help him call the cab driver. The driver agreed to bring the phone to the hotel for US$30, about triple the price he would charge for the round trip cab fair. Adrian eventually got the phone back and found that the cab driver had made an eighteen minute phone call to some other part of Honduras, accruing enormous roaming charges, probably to discuss with a friend how much money to extort from Adrian. Assholes. Anyway, Adrian had been taking all his pictures on that phones so it would have been very annoying to lose it permanently.

I read a bunch more of Strain. It's still a good book.

That evening I made chicken curry for dinner. My cold is about gone, so we figure it is safe enough for me to make meals. Pierre seemed happy to get a break from chef duty and we had margaritas, of course. We had replenished our collection of spirits during the shopping trip earlier in the day.

Day 8

The sandflies were biting like crazy in the morning. We lost the boat key for a while but discovered it later in Tom's jacket pocket. I took a shower in the room Jimmy had given us a key to. It turns out that Jimmy the harbor master's full name is Jimmy Hendrix. All in all, it was a pretty standard morning in the Caribbean.

Sandflies are more commonly known as no-see-ems. They have an annoying stinging bite that leaves a little red welt, and they are very persistent. They're called no-see-ems because they are so small that you usually don't see them.

I managed to forget the day of the week and day of the month for a while, so this can technically be counted as a real vacation. However, it's difficult to remain ignorant of such information for long. For example, this morning I had to take my pills to prevent malaria, and that requires that I know it is one week since we flew to Guatemala. Also, you must track the time to know when your watches start and end, and it's difficult to look at my watch without noticing the date.

By all signs, Fantasy Island appears to be winding down and will soon close. Or maybe someone will buy it and make improvements. It's a veritable ghost town with about a dozen boats docked here and a dozen guests staying in the rooms. And Jimmy Hendrix will be gone soon, trading his boat for an RV. Kurt will be leaving too, off to have new adventures in Singapore and Borneo.

We motored away at 8:30 A.M., leaving Roatán for Guanaja. The ride was uneventful. Tom has equipped Ketch 22 with black mesh screen material around the cockpit, and it keeps him from burning on sunny days. Unfortunately, it does not work for me and I got a decent sunburn on my back.

Oh, there was one event worth mentioning. We were visited by dolphins who swam with the boat, staying just ahead of the bow. I counted six at one point, but I believe there were more. The pod played in front of the boat for about fifteen minutes before departing for other waters. I could almost touch them from the bow, but not quite.

We could see Guanaja in the distance for most of the trip and finally arrived around 3 P.M. Guanaja is an island with, as far as we can tell, no roads. Everybody has a boat instead of a car and motors from dock to dock. There are about 8,000 people here. The main settlement is on a tiny island that floats in front of the main island. All you can see of the settlement is a lot of houses on stilts rising out of the water. You cannot see any of the land or coral at the heart of this settlement from the outside. Guanaja was settled this way originally so the inhabitants could keep away from the sandflies.

There are also docks and buildings dotting the shore of the main island, many small islands with buildings on them in close proximity, and houses on stilts out in the water that are only accessible by boat. The whole place reminds Adrian of the movie Waterworld. Our first stop was a floating gas station where we found plenty of diesel to fill the tanks.

Figure 4. Bowline knot.
That morning I had lashed four five-gallon fuel jugs to the deck along the port toe rail. Now I really hope my inexperienced rope work holds up. To accomplish that task I had employed a bowline knot (Figure 4), probably the most common knot on any boat. Use it to make a loop at the end of a roat that can hold onto anything. The harder you pull on the rope, the tighter the knot gets.

We searched for a place to anchor, but the depths on our charts were way off. Eventually we found a place that was reasonably shallow and dropped anchor. Then a fellow pulled up in a motorboat to see if we were alright. His name is Meyers, and he was accompanied by his girlfriend.

Meyers suggested a better place to anchor so we motored a bit farther on his advice. We anchored again beside a hotel on a big rock that rose above the water. Like many other structures here, this hotel is totally isolated by water.

Meyers pulled up again in his boat the second time we were dropping anchor and said he had meant to lead us into a nearby cove. It was sheltered from waves, contained some other sailboats, and had a good German restaurant and bar on short. It appeared to us that the local welcoming committee received kickbacks from the German restaurant. We told him thanks but said we preferred to not move the anchor again.

A little later another guy pulled up in another boat. This time it was Linden, also there to advise us of the German restaurant. We said we didn't want to inflate our dinghy, so Linden offered to give us a ride. Tom and Pierre didn't feel like going anywhere (they appear to be totally immune to cabin fever), but Adrian and I couldn't wait to sample the local culture. We climbed into Linden's boat and headed for shore with no idea how we would get back to Ketch 22.

We arrived at a dock with five or six other dinghies. Beyond the dock was a small lawn, and beyond the lawn was an open-air restaurant with a welcoming staircase in front. There was a second story on the building, perhaps a home for the proprietors.

Speaking of the proprietors, we met Klaus and Annette first. They're a friendly couple who speak English very well with German accents. They moved from Germany many years ago and started a motorcycle tours company in mainland Honduras. Klaus showed us pictures of the company in an old periodical. Hurricane Mitch wiped out the business, and they eventually made their way to Guanaja.

Adrian said it was a real "island fever" kind of bar. I should ask him what that means sometime. There were about a dozen people there, all local islanders. The big tourism season is November and December, but we were a little early for it. People there spoke Spanish, English, and Island English. Island English was extremely difficult for Adrian and me to understand, sounding to me like English so heavily accented as to be unrecognizable.

Meyers and his girlfriend were there . He said that when people spoke to him with Island English he had learned to tune most of it out. It was too difficult even after listening to it for years. I played a game of pool with Meyers. Pool is popular on Guanaja, but there are only four pool tables, and this was the best one. It was a close game but Meyers won.

Annette made us an excellent meal. I had a pair of sausages with sauerkraut and homemade noodles. She was very fast, serving up drinks right and left and generally doing a good job at pleasing all the customers.

We also met Gar from Pennsylvania, a regular at the bar. He wore a bandanna on his head, looked like a reformed bike game member who had seen too many hard days, and lived on a sailboat anchored nearby.

The shrimp mogul and Oscar showed up later with twenty pounds of shrimp for Annette and Klaus. We never got the shrimp mogul's name, but he was a local seafood distributor, specializing in shrimp, lobster, and conch. He told us a lot of other stuff, but I could not understand most of his Island English.

Oscar had more to say than anyone but was also very difficult to understand. He had no concept of personal space and would be nearly spitting in you ear when he spoke to you sometimes. I don't know whether that is an island characteristic or a drunk characteristic.

His full name is Oscar Albert, but he signs his name Oscar B. People in the bar call him Albert, Al, and Alby. He had a few important words to live by that he told me, such as "understand to survive," "keep up," and "time will tell." He has five daughters. There was a sixth, but she died in a storm or flood. He is forty-eight years old. It was very difficult to learn all of this since I had such a hard time with his Island English. "Understand to survive" sounds like "Ondastah to sahbeye."

Adriand was keen to find a ride back, remembering how early we had to renew our journey in the morning. Things on Ketch 22 get started at first light. Annette kept telling us we could get a ride whenever someone left, but Adrian was worried that nobody would leave for hours.

Eventually I asked around and heard that Marty, Meyers's brother, was leaving, so he gave us a ride back to Ketch 22 on his way. Meyers and Marty are a couple white guys (unusual for this island) who grew up partly in the Caribbean and partly in New Orleans. Their English had an unusual accent, but it was very easy to understand.

At some point in the evening, Oscar drew a pictures of an eagle on a napkin for me. Then he looked embarrassed and he tore it up. I was disappointed because I wanted to keep it for my journal. So a little later he borrowed another pen from Annette and created the masterpiece you see here. Below the eagle you may be able to make out his signature: Oscar B.

Of all the places I have seen, Guanaja feels the most like a completely different world. It is a floating island community that appears completely man-made from the outside surrounded by a largest island with jungle everywhere and too many sandflies, an island fueling station for travelers, a hodgepodge of islanders and expatriates, and probably one of the only places in the world where the only road is the water in the harbor.

Day 9

I got a little sleep in the calm water at Guanaja. It would be the last for a while. Writing in this journal also had to take a break until the next harbor. It is too hard to write while underway. The motion on the open ocean prohibits it.

We motored out of the harbor at Guanaja around 6:30 A.M. Our destination was Vivorillos, a cluster of deserted islands near the corner of Honduras and Nicaragua, where we would turn and head south.

There was a small freighter on an intercept course with us at one point in the morning. Tom was a bit worried; I believe he is very wary of pirates. But this was an impractical ship to use for piracy, so I didn't think much of it. It was simply too slow to be a threat to anything but sailboats. Boats with valuables, such as yachts and sport fishing boats, could outrun it.

We were approaching a rain shaft, so we turned to port thirty degrees to try to pass behind the rain. Moments later, the freighter made a similar turn and was again on an intercept course with us.

This didn't bother me since it was a sensible move for the freighter to make to also avoid the storm. But the others on the boat were agitated.

Tom got on the radio and said something like, "Freighter on the horizon, this is sailboat Ketch 22. What is your intention?" By this point we could no longer see the freighter through the rain and clouds. We use a line-of-sight VHF radio on channel 16. Channel 16 is for general marine communications, but sometimes on it you will hear whistling, singing, people playing music, or long conversations. The only long conversation I have heard was in Spanish so I couldn't understand it.

The freighter finally responded and said it had changed course to avoid the rain. I was surprised anyone on board spoke English.

The next time we changed course to return to our original heading, the freighter did not follow us. It eventually drifted across our stern and over the horizon.

From Adrian and Pierre, I get the impression that Tom has a reputation among his peers as being extremely safe. He doesn't take unnecessary risks, and he has backups for almost every piece of equipment on the boat. He has more fuel filters than he can keep track of, and even a spare pump for the inflatable dinghy.

The wind picked up later in the day, so we hoisted the sails and shut off the engine. We were cruising at six or seven knots under sail, which is pretty good for a boat this size.

Pierre suddenly noticed that a steel ring connecting the end of the main boom to the deck had broken. When this rigging breaks, the boom can swing way too far and become a real problem. Lucky for us, the broken ring was still holding onto the rest of the rigging like a hook. It was a precarious situation, though. Tom grabbed a line out of his collection in one of the deck compartments and used it to lash the boom to the pulley at the end of the main sheet. (A sheet is a line that controls how much the boom is allowed to pivot.) This effectively replaced the broken piece of steel. It is not a permanent solution because there is too much chafing on a line used this way, but it should last until the end of the trip.

I tried cooking underway for the first time. The boat rolls a lot, so you have to constantly brace yourself with your feet and legs. It was very hot with the gas stove running so I was wearing only a swimsuit and sweating profusely. By the time I was finished preparing dinner I felt queasy, so I asked Tom to dish things up so I could go sit on deck for a while. Staring at the horizon helps me with motion sickness better than anything else. I recovered and had dinner.

While trying to sleep I noticed that from downstairs in my bunk the sea state feels much more rough than it actually is. For a while I thought it was getting stormy outside, but when I went up for a night watch it was smooth sailing.

Day 10

Pierre has been dragging a fishing line behind the boat most of the time we have been underway. This morning we snagged a barracuda. It was about two feet long and had huge nasty sharp teeth. Tom said we can't eat barracuda because they can be poisonous.

We tried to coax it into shaking loose from the hook, but it didn't work. Finally Tom grabbed it with another general purpose hook on a pole and pulled it close enough that we were able to remove the fish hook with pliers. This took a few tries and was risky because the fish would thrash around a lot. I'm sure its teeth could have done a lot of damage to someone's hand.

Unfortunately, I don't think it survived the ordeal. It was very worn out and last time I saw it it was just floating away without moving.

The next fish we caught was about one foot long. We don't know what kind of fish it was, but it had red meat. Maybe it was some kind of tuna. Tom and Pierre cut it up on the deck, removing as much edible meat as they could. The rest of it went back into the water. Pierre washed off the deck with sea water.

We were near a shallow coral reef at this point, which is probably why we were finally able to catch something.

We arrived at Vivorillos around midday. This is a cluster of tiny islands that rise up out of a giant coral reef. The plan was to find sheltered waters in which to anchor and spend the night on a very calm boat. As we had been told at the German restaurant, there were many fishing boats working around the islands. I believe Vivorillos covers a large area and many of the islands are too far away to see.

We were close to two islands. One looked like your stereotypical tropical paradise island with white sand, palm trees, and glowing turquoise water around it. The other was covered in dark jungle vegetation and had fifty or a hundred frigate birds circling slowly above. There was a structure on the island that we think was an old military outpost. There was another more distant island to the north with very little vegetation and what appeared to be somebody's house. Maybe it was an old fishing shack that somebody stayed at on fishing trips.

We dropped anchor, but the location was not good. Too much wave action, and some of the rock formations in the water appeared too shallow.

We decided to try the east side of the islands instead and hope for better shelter from the ocean swells there. We would round the south side of the frigate bird island to get there.

On our way we passed a boat called the Yokey from Roatán. Its passengers wanted to talk to us and motioned us closer. Tom motored closer. The Yokey was some sort of small displacement hull river runner that appeared to be in use as a fishing boat. It did not look practical for the open ocean and would probably be better used as a water taxi. Its inhabitants were a scruffy bunch of shirtless fellows. I think I counted five, but Tom said there were more below. When we got closer they said they had a dead battery and needed a charge. Tom yelled that we didn't have the equipment to help them. When he saw that one of them had a line ready to tie our boats together he revved the motor and moved us away from them.

I guess we will never know if they were a bunch of helpless fishermen or a group of casual pirates. All the fishing boats in the area were much better equipped to help them. On the east side of frigate bird island we even found a couple motorboats from the Honduran navy. They were anchored near the island and the crews were fishing. Maybe they should have been helping the Yokey.

We anchored again and the sea was still rough. Tom had expected more shelter from the Vivorillos islands.

With no way to get to land, potential pirates nearby, and on a boat that is steadier under sail, we decided to pull anchor and keep going.

For our next stop we had a choice of Providencia or San Andrés, both islands that belonged to Colombia, though they were much closer to Nicaragua. The timing suggested we would reach Providencia at night or San Andrés the following morning, so we set course for Andrés.

Figure 5. Names of wind directions.
Later that day Tom pointed out that we had enjoyed a one hundred mile beam reach, something sailors love. A beam reach means the wind is hitting the boat almost directly from the side, which is optimal for the way sailboats work. Figure 5 shows a variety of other wind directions. It is impossible to sail in such a direction that the wind is between port close hauled and starboard close hauled. In this situation, you must tack, which is to sail in a zigzag pattern toward your destination, all the time keeping the wind at some usable angle behind close hauled.

We had sailed illegally through Honduras. The customs agent was unavailable the day we were in Roatán and we hadn't heard about an agent in Guanaja. Now we were out of Honduran waters and in Nicaraguan waters. Oh well. I suspect nobody will ever care.

We had our fresh fish for dinner.

Day 11

Trying to sleep is nearly pointless for me. Sometimes I can doze for a few minutes at a time, but there is no deep sleep. At night I lay down and do my best to rest, but I remain conscious. When we're in the calm water of a harbor I can sleep, but not while underway. It's either too hot and sticky in the bunk or, in this climate, too wet on the cockpit benches upstairs. I need to learn to be less of a light sleeper.

I'm still undecided on how I feel about cruising. The exhaustion is annoying. But the motion is very pleasant at times. The seemingly infinite ocean, colors of the water, storms, sunrises, and sunsets are very beautiful. The feeling of freedom is good, but it is squashed by needing to deal with customs agents and checking in and out of different countries. I'm told that customs agents can be very corrupt and try to get money from you to line their own pockets in a variety of different ways. Tom won't ever sail to Belize again after his experience there.

I asked Tom why he likes sailing. He most enjoys the life and death aspects of it. The big fish eats the little fish. And sailors sometimes eat fish if they can find them. And the whole time the sailor is at the mercy of the elements and trying to plan a journey that is survivable. He is in touch with his primal side out here in the ocean and he likes it.

In the morning we floated through fields of garbage as far as the eye can see. By some phenomenon the garbage forms into long parallel lines across the surface of the water. I'll have to research how that happens after the trip. We couldn't think of a plausible source for that much garbage on the water. Can a storm blow that much out to sea? Did a cruise ship dump it? Who knows.

The wind grew too weak and Tom started the engine. This trip has been about half sailing, a quarter motoring, and a quarter motor-sailing. When the wind is too weak for good sailing you not only move slowly (for Ketch 22 that means down around four knots) but the boat also becomes unstable and rocks too much.

We moved into an area of heavy fishing activity. We would occasionally spot triplets of white floats that were marking nets or traps below. This area was relatively shallow, so we figured the fishing would stop when we reached the deep ocean again.

Around 10 A.M. we heard an ominous crunching sound. Tom immediately threw the motor into neutral and shut it off. Behind the boat we saw fragments of one of the fisherman's floats. Looking closer, we saw an intact float hanging out the back of the boat, and a line extending from under the boat down into the depths. We had snagged a fishing line on the prop.

Tom said this had happened to him once before in the Pacific and the only solution was to cut the line from the prop. I said I would go do it. Tom seemed concerned, asking if I was a strong swimmer. My swimming skill is fine, but I was certainly tired from lack of sleep. However, everyone on board was at least somewhat sleep deprived.

I put on the mask and snorkel (Tom had these on the boat because he is prepared for pretty much anything) and jumped into the Caribbean. This was a real zen moment. It was only about a hundred feet deep there, but that is far too deep to see the bottom. And we were miles and miles out of sight of land. Under the water I could see the bottom of Ketch 22, the weathered fishing line extending into the depths at a forty-five degree angle, and turquoise. Just pure, bright turquoise absolutely everywhere.

This would have been a great time to see some more dolphins, but there were none. Only turquoise.

There was a third float jammed up next to the prop, and it was connected to the one floating behind the boat. The line extending down to the depths was incredibly taught. We had been dragging it, and it probably carried a very heavy load underneath. I surfaced and said that we would need to cut the line. There was no hope of unwrapping it with that kind of tension. Tom handed me the knife, the same one that was used to prepare the fish we caught.

Back down in the turquoise I first made sure my limbs were clear of the downhill parts of the line. With that kind of tension I did not want to be tangled up in the line when it broke. I had my doubts about this knife. If the line could support this kind of weight, it should be exceptionally strong. But all I had to do was push the knife into the line. There was a muffled snap and the lower part of the line sped away into the deep. It was out of sight in a fraction of a second.

After another breath I got to work on the floats and the remaining piece of line tangled on the prop. I was able to unwrap the float and get it away from the prop. I worked the line back and forth like dental floss, but it was knotted up with seaweed in a confusing mass around the prop.

I grabbed onto the ladder at the back of the boat to take a break. The boat was moving up and down with the swells, and sometimes slapping down onto the water. So there was a lot of water moving around underneath and I was winded. The total lack of sleep for two nights probably didn't help either.

Tom decided to take a turn. Better to have a fresh person in the water instead of one who is worn out. I gave him the mask and knife and he jumped in. He swam under until we could just see his feet sticking out the back of the boat. After a bit of wriggling around he came back up. He had successfully cut the line off the prop.

We motor-sailed away and kept a better watch for floats from then on. We wouldn't reach the end of the fishing ground for hours and saw many other floats on the way. There were several fishing boats on the horizon, but none of them would discover the damage for hours or days, so we figured we wouldn't need to deal with any angry fishermen.

I cooked while underway again. This time I did not feel sick at all. Maybe I'm getting my sea legs.

We needed to travel dead downwind, which makes for inefficient sailing. So we performed a couple jibes in the evening. Adrian was excited to perform some real sailing maneuvers on this trip.

A jibe is not the same as a tack. In a tack, the wind direction relative to the boat passes through the irons (see Figure 5). In a jibe, the wind direction passes through dead downwind. Sailors prefer jibes when racing because they can keep their momentum. A tack is simpler because the changing wind direction causes the sail to transition gradually from one side of the boat to the other. In a jibe the wind is coming from behind, so, without preventative measures, the sail would reach a tipping point and catch the wind in a sudden, violent swing. To prevent this, the sails are centered by tightening the sheets, which are lines that control how much the booms and sails can move from side to side. After the jibe, the sheets are let out again, easing the sails into their new positions.

My night watch was pleasant as usual. There was a bright, almost full moon and few clouds. The ocean was calm, and we were cruising under sail at about five knots. With the moon hight above, the lighting was uniform. It all looked too clean and perfect, as if I were on a film set instead of out in the ocean.

A freighter spent a whole hour passing on our stern, from the time its light appeared on the east horizon until it disappeared on the west horizon. It was about two miles behind us at its closest point.

Day 12

Nobody spotted Providencia during the night. We expected to at least see the glow of its city lights to the east.

We could see San Andrés starting at first light. The wind direction was good, but it had weakened, so Tom started the engine around midmorning. We motor-sailed the remaining ten miles or so to the harbor.

The harbor on the east side of San Andrés is long. You enter it from the south and follow the channel markers north. The channel markers are helpful, but it is still a treacherous harbor, and you would not want to navigate it in a keel boat without a depth meter. There are shallows scattered about.

It was time to attach the courtesy flag but nobody knew the top from the bottom on the Colombian flag. When you enter a new country by boat, it is traditional to fly that country's flag on the starboard side. This is known as flying a courtesy flag.

I looked to the shore and other boats for an example of how to orient the flag. I couldn't see any Colombian flags anywhere, but we were a long way from shore. So I started photographing buildings that looked like they might be flying flags. I used maximum zoom and then viewed the photos on the camera's display, which allows you to magnify the image to look closely at details. This worked and we found that the flag is oriented with yellow on top, blue in the middle, and red on the bottom. It would have been embarrassing to fly the Colombian flag upside down.

Clara's father gave us this camera as a wedding present. It is a Panasonic DMC-FZ5. It has 12X zoom, equivalent to a 36-432mm lens. We have used this technique several times so far to identify boats on the horizon. After this trip, I am completely convinced that any other camera we get in the future should have at least 12X zoom. On a trip like this you use zoom all the time. On a sailboat, things are always far away.

We anchored near Nene's Marina. There was another marina that looked more promising because there were sailboats parked there, but we didn't see a way to get there without driving through some very shallow water.

All four of us took the dinghy to Nene's Marina to ask about how to check into Colombia and find out if there was a place we could dock. A woman there informed us that Nene was gone and the marina was closed because it was Sunday. Monday is a holiday, so the marina will remain closed until Tuesday. Nene is the person to see to check into Colombia, some sort of private liaison to the customs agents, but we will not be able to find him until Tuesday.

We were only planning to stay on San Andrés until Wednesday morning so if we do manage to check in, it will be for a brief stay. Tom is getting worried about the paperwork. His boat papers most recently record that he checked out of Livingston, Guatemala with a destination of Roatán, Honduras. The farther we get from Roatán, the more troublesome the officials might become.

When we tried to motor back to Ketch 22 on the dinghy, the engine wouldn't start. Fortunately, we had brought the oars, so Pierre and I rowed us back to Ketch 22.

There are shipwrecks all over the harbor on San Andrés. There are plenty of shallow spots to cause problems, but I am still amazed by the number of wrecks. And some of them are right next to one another. Maybe they have bad storms here.

We wanted to see if we could rent a slip or take showers at the other marina, so Adrian and I paddled the dinghy over to it. It was about a fifteen minute trip. A young man met us at the dock. He didn't speak English so he went to fetch someone who did.

A fellow named Emanuel came out to greet us. He asked where we had come from, and I told him Río Dulce, Guatemala. He seemed to thing that I was telling him that we paddled our dinghy from Guatemala, so we explained things better and pointed to Ketch 22 out in the harbor.

Emanuel told us that we could not dock our boat there because the marina "is for rich people." Then he clarified and said it is a private marina. However, we were welcome to use the anchorage just outside their dock, and then they would allow us to eat at their restaurant.

Before we started talking much, Adrian got a beer at the bar. If I had know Emanuel would let him have it for free I would have gotten one as well. He may have felt sorry for us being so poor that we couldn't afford an engine for our dinghy.

On the way back to Ketch 22 the current and wind were in our favor. There were motorboats full of tourists zipping around the harbor. Some of the tourists were taking pictures of us, so we waved and said hello.

I hadn't noticed before that Adrian usual wore his life jacket on these random dinghy rides. Apparently, he is not much of a swimmer. So he gets points for having the balls to take a sailing trip like this.

Tom and Pierre fixed up the engine shortly after we returned to Ketch 22.

After all our research, it sounds like our only option is to track down Nene and see if he can help us get checked in and out of Colombia.

That night, Adrian and I went to shore again. We locked up the dinghy at Nene's Marina and explored this part of the island. We are on a touristy peninsula on the northeast corner of San Andrés.

We were hoping to find a good meal, but that part of town had almost no restaurants. It was more like a big shopping mall with too many duty free shops. There are a lot of Perry Ellis and Hugo Boss stores and many Internet cafes. It felt a lot like the duty free shopping section in any airport's international terminal, except it was much more hot and humid.

We finally found an Italian restaurant and had a decent meal. The waitress was very helpful in trying to explain where we could find a supermarket and other things. She said there was no laundromat on the island, but she had a friend who might be able to wash our clothes. Communication was difficult, but Adrian knows a decent amount of Spanish.

My feet felt like they would fall off on the way back to Ketch 22. I had just gone three nights with no sleep. I tried to stay up and work on this journal, but it didn't last long. We were finally in the calm waters of a harbor and I could sleep. I passed out for an unknown amount of time on the cockpit bench, and then went down to my bunk to sleep the rest of the night away.

Day 13

After a leisurely morning, we all took the dinghy to Nene's Marina. It is a holiday today, so Nene's was closed. We dumped our garbage in a nearby trash can and headed to town.

A lot of garbage accumulates on a sailboat, the smelliest of which is the used toilet paper. Maybe a boat with a fancier head can flush that stuff. Ours is a manual pump toilet that is prone to clogging. All organic garbage, such as egg shells and orange peels, go overboard, and we save the rest for disposal at marinas.

We found an internet cafe and everyone got plugged in, except for me of course. I didn't bring a laptop or phone or anything. I went exploring instead.

After a few minutes of exploring there was a horrendous tropical rainstorm that lasted about fifteen minutes. All the locals stopped what they were doing and waited in the shops and under the awnings. The roads were all flooded in about five minutes. I waited under the awning outside a Perry Ellis store. I enjoyed watching island girls in wet t-shirts plow through the flooded streets on scooters and golf carts.

It was difficult to cross the streets for a while after the storm. Many of them were flooded, and I learned in Roatán that my sandals can give me blisters if they get wet.

I walked around and found a lavanderia (laundromat) and a supermarket. There was a guy outside the supermarket who offered to change U.S. dollars into Colombian plata at a rate of 1750 to the dollar. A restaurateur had told us 1800, so I said no thanks.

When I got back to the Internet cafe, Tom looked up the actual exchange rate. It was 1910. Tom was suffering some serious confusion thinking he had gotten US$100 from an ATM when he had actually gotten 100,000 plata. He worked it out eventually.

The official name for the currency appears to be plata, but everyone calls them pesos.

Tom let me send some emails on his laptop and then we went out looking for lunch. We went to a place that I had passed while walking along the beach boardwalk. They served meals that appear typical for this island: your choice of meat accompanied by rice, refried beans, and salad. We had beer and lemonade too. It was Aguila beer, a popular brand here, and some sort of lemonade with fruits other than lemons in it.

We found a better supermarket on the way back to the dinghy. It had enough provisions for the last leg of sailing. Adrian and I also went out hunting for tequila to support our margarita fueled sunset happy hours on the boat.

Upon meeting back at the dinghy, we found Tom bailing out the dinghy with a piece of an old plastic jug. It was filled with water. We thought for a while that some jokers were laying a trick on us, and Tom was angry. But later on we realized that it was probably just the rainstorm. It had been a very heavy downpour.

We all got showers on the boat that night, since our attempts at finding marina showers had all failed. For a boat shower, I went for a swim in the ocean, then I used shampoo and salt water to clean my hair on deck, and then I went down below deck to rinse off with fresh water in the shower. I haven't felt so clean for days.

Day 14

The holiday was supposed to be yesterday, but the music and parade in the street were today. We thought that maybe we heard wrong about which day was the holiday.

But when we arrived at Nene's Marina everyone was busy working. Nene was there. There were fishermen next door unloading a catch of red snapper. And the local customs agent was there waiting for us.

The agent's name is Renee. He has been on San Andrés for forty years, but he is originally from Cartegena. He had gotten wind of our arrival and tracked us down. We weren't trying to avoid him, so it was very convenient. Tom was very happy that he didn't care that we never checked into Honduras. After about an hour of paperwork and legwork on the part of one of Renee's colleagues, we had our passports stamped and we were ready to go.

We came across a store that sells linens. Adrian has been uncomfortable in the bunk and wanted to buy a sheet. He bought one that appeared to be decorated with the Japanese cartoon character Pokemon. But, upon closer inspection, the sheets were a cheap knockoff and the character was called Pot-B-Ham.

We found lunch at a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant called La Posada D Lulú. Unfortunately, Lulú is no longer with us. The restaurant was run by her sister Marta. She is a wonderful gal who speaks almost no English. She explained that she would bring us a proper Colombian meal. It was the same form as the meal the day before, but it was higher quality. We had our choice of meat, rice, beans, salad, beer, and the same Colombian lemonade that we had tried before. Tom and Adrian had chicken. Pierre and I had fish, and this was the real fish where they cook the whole fish, head, tail, and all. Delicious.

Marta and Tom.
I got my picture taken with Marta and gave her my email address. She didn't have an email address to give me, only a Facebook id, but I don't have a Facebook account so it wouldn't matter. Anyway, she said she would get in touch later so that I could send her the pictures.

The rest of the day was uneventful. We walked around by the beach and got more beer for the last part of our journey. Then we went back to the boat for happy hour and dinner.

It was fiercely hot all day. Tom said it was too much effort to just sit around and do nothing. I took another swim in the harbor before dinner and rinsed off with a bucket of fresh water on deck.

Day 15

Ketch 22 is a cat-ketch made by Freedom Yachts of Rhode Island. It is one of the first production sailboats with carbon fiber masts. More specifically, they are made with layers, listed from the inside out, of fiberglass, carbon fiber, fiberglass, and gelcoat. A cat-ketch has a main mast at the bow, a shorter mizzen mast near the center of the boat, and the rudder at the stern. Ketch 22 is slightly different because its masts are the same height, but its mizzen boom and sail are still smaller than the main. A regular ketch is mostly like a cat-ketch except the masts are shifted a bit to the stern to make room for a jib sail. Ketch 22 has no jib sail. The hull number listed by Freedom Yachts is 22, hence the name of the boat.

Most contemporary sailboats are made with aluminum masts, which require several stays to hold them in place and stop them from bending. A stay is a line extending from the top of the mast to the deck. Ketch 22 requires no stays because its carbon fiber masts are so strong. Carbon fiber masts are only common among racing sailboats because they cost more than aluminum masts. Some boats are still built with wood masts, but this is extremely rare.

A San Andrés local drove by in his motorboat and yelled, "Beautiful rigging!" Presumably, he was referring to the lack of rigging that comes with carbon fiber masts. It looks clean.

Ketch 22 motored away from San Andrés around 9am bound for Bocas del Toro, Panama. It was beautiful sailing all day with blue skies and clouds on the horizon on all sides. We mostly had north and northwest winds. Since we were heading south, the northwest wind was preferred. I finished reading The Strain during the daylight. Now I want to read the next in the series.

At dusk I went below to cook dinner. The wind became stronger and the sea became more active while I was cooking. At one point the boat rolled hard and I slopped a few drops of simmering sauce on my bare foot. Ouch. It's good I had chosen a tall pot or it would have been much worse.

We didn't have regular watches during the daytime because most of the crew is awake during the day and it's easy to find someone to sit at the helm. My first regular shift started at 8 P.M.

Bocas del Toro was dead downwind. Since you can't sail dead downwind, our heading was off by ten or fifteen degrees. The wind was changing gradually, through. I woke Pierre up once to make sure I was choosing the proper heading and the sails were sheeted out properly.

When the winds changed enough that our heading was forced away from Bocas by thirty degrees, I woke Pierre up again to suggest that we jibe. Pierre was the one I kept waking up because his bunk was right beside the stairs leading down into the cabin. Our captain, Tom, probably has more sailing experience than Pierre, but his bunk was all the way up at the bow. Pierre agreed to the jibe and we sheeted in the sails. At some point Tom woke up too. He can sleep like a baby while underway, but any little change to the motion or sounds of the boat will wake him up. A good trait for a captain. We jibed and sheeted out the sails again.

This didn't go smoothly. We had some lines getting snagged on parts of the rigging. It took a while to work it out, but we did. Part of the problem was that it was at night. Tom pointed out how easy it was when we raised the sail during the storm at the beginning of the trip. So many things could have gone wrong but didn't.

My shift ended at 10 P.M. I had learned by this point that I couldn't sleep down in my bunk while underway. It was much easier to rest up in the cockpit in the fresh air. I reclined on the cockpit benches for most of the next six hours.

Day 16

We had cruised so fast the day before that we actually had a chance of reaching Bocas del Toro before dark. Well, Day 16 began in the dark; I am referring to the dark that would come at the end of the day.

The wind died just before my 4 A.M. shift, and the boat was down to three knots. We turned on the engine, partly for propulsion, and partly to charge the batteries. It was a full moon, but the sky had clouded over and the moon had vanished hours earlier.

The wind grew steadily. By 5 A.M. it was a strong east wind, a beam reach, and we were cruising at an easy seven knots. I lowered the RPM on the engine. No more need for propulsion anymore; we just needed a little more charge on the batteries.

By 5:30 the wind was strong, maybe thirty knots. I was considering waking up Pierre again to sanity check the situation. We already had the mizzen reefed to keep the boat controllable in strong winds, but I wasn't sure it was enough.

Suddenly the boat turned to port sixty degrees. What the hell? Was the autopilot being overwhelmed by the strong winds? Tom had already put the autopilot in high performance mode so that it could manipulate the rudder more aggressively.

The function of the autopilot is to constantly manipulate the rudder to keep the boat on a specific heading.

Fortunately, Tom had showed me how to turn the autopilot off and on. I shut it off and turned the wheel until the boat was back on course. Then I turned the autopilot back on and fine tuned it to a hundred and eighty degrees again.

Moments later, the boat did it again. It turned out of control, leaned over much too far, and the main boom scraped through the top of a swell.

I tried to activate the autopilot two more times while yelling at Pierre to wake up. It was useless and I settled in to hand-steering the boat.

I couldn't leave the wheel in these conditions, not knowing what the boat would do if it was allowed to veer off course, so I kept yelling for Pierre to wake up.

A couple minutes later Tom popped his head up out of the cabin. The severe leaning of the boat had awakened him. He said "What's going on?"

I said, "The autopilot isn't cutting it. The boat keeps turning too far."

"Are you steering it manually?"


"I don't even have a shirt on."

Then he disappeared and reappeared a minute later. He asked about the situation and I said I thought the wind might have become too strong. He seemed unconcerned because he took some time to pee in the bucket. When it's a rough ride you don't want to stand on the side of the boat hanging onto a taught line. It's much safer to stay in the cabin and use the bucket.

He came over next and took the helm. He tried to engage the autopilot a few times, but it didn't work. This wind and sea weren't too rough for the autopilot; it had simply broken.

We sailed the remaining sixty miles with no autopilot. Nothing will make you appreciate the autopilot as much as two straight hours at the wheel. It takes constant concentration and a bit of muscle to keep a boat on course in strong wind on a rough sea. Depending on the angle the boat is hitting the ocean swells, the difficulty can vary greatly.

It was a close reach (sailing into a wind about forty-five degrees off the bow) most of the way to Bocas from that point. But the wind was so strong that we kept a good speed the whole way.

There was no way to prepare a meal under such rough conditions and with the boat leaning at such an angle. We had some energy bars for breakfast or lunch (I'm not sure what time it was) and pushed on.

We reached the Bocas Marina and Yacht Club at 4 P.M. It was still daylight! The boat is the most stable tied to the slip, so I was glad to know we would have good sleeping conditions that night.

Sometime during the last leg the collar at the base of the main boom tore. It's made of stainless steel and holds onto a pulley for the main boom vang. A vang is a line that limits how high a boom can lift up. It would take an amazing amount of wind for the sail to pull up on the boom hard enough to rip that collar. Tom says the mizzen collar should have had more force on it but it was made in Rhode Island by the boat's manufacturer. The main collar was a replacement part made somewhere in Mexico.

The customs people showed up about ten minutes after we parked the boat. Very prompt. Tom did a bunch of paperwork with them and they took him to town to get money from an ATM with which to pay them and to show him the steps we should have to complete the next day. After all that, we were legal to roam free in Panama.

Bocas del Toro is a province of Panama. It contains an archipelago which contains Isla Colón. Our marina and the town of Bocas del Toro are both on Isla Colón. In fact, they are so close together that you only need a three minute water taxi ride to get from one to the other. Sadly, there is no trail connecting the two through the jungle, so you cannot simply walk. It's a party town, or so I'm told. Maybe I'll stay out late enough one night to see the partying. You are offered weed every day on the street if you look like a tourist. San Andrés was more complete; there they would offer you both weed and prostitutes. It's easy to find English speakers in Bocas town. Many of the people living and working here are gringos. The main street is as touristy as you would expect, containing restaurants, hotels, trinket shops, and tour and water sports companies. Off the main street there are banks, churches, schools, an airport, and plenty of residences.

We had a burger at the Bocas Marina cantina that night. We were dead tired from the rough ride and lack of sleep the night before. It was very crowded at the cantina. They were having the Roast of Dave. Dave is a local bookstore owner. Unfortunately, we were all asleep before the roast ever started. I'm told it was very loud, but I didn't hear a thing.

Days 17-22

The sailing was finished, so the remainder of the trip was a low key vacation.

I'm not sure if sailing is for me. Most of it is enjoyable, but not getting any sleep for days in a row is tedious. Also, I could see myself becoming bored of long, slow, uneventful cruises. Sometimes you spend the entire day going through the motions of your sailing chores while you watch the sun move across the sky and the direction of the shadows change over the course of the day. At night, watching the moon cross the sky is equally as interesting. This level of interest probably varies greatly depending on your personality. To me, the most exciting part of sailing is seeing new places.

Indeed, Tom remarked on several occasions that cruising (that's what sailors call sailing from place to place) lets you see places you would not ordinarily see and in a different light. I would love to have seen more of Guanaja and to have actually set foot on land at the Vivorillos. Perhaps we were in too much of a rush to reach Bocas del Toro and should have focused more on sight-seeing. However, I believe what was really driving us was the weather. You have to sail when the winds are favorable or you might be stuck in one place for too long.

Boats are maintenance nightmares. On this trip we experienced an unreliable outboard motor on the dinghy, a broken ring connecting the main boom to the sheet line, a stuck pulley on the mizzen block, a fried split charge diode, a broken autopilot, a torn collar at the base of the main mast, and dirty diesel fuel that was rapidly consuming our fuel filters. There was also a long gap worn through on the canvas above the cockpit where the mizzen boom had been allowed to rub it. And we found a piece of aluminum that had been part of a pulley assembly. Since we couldn't find any broken or missing pulleys on Ketch 22, we can only surmise that it came from another boat in a harbor somewhere.

The remaining few days were spent getting to know the town and its inhabitants. We wandered the treets and ate at some of the restaurants. Katherine, the proprietor of El Ultimo Refugio, says El Ultimo Refugio is the best place to eat in town. Its menu looked great, but, sadly, the timing never worked out for us to eat there. By some phenomenon, all the grocery stores and many of the other businesses are run by Chinese people. The Chinese restaurant is included, of course. Adrian thinks maybe this is because of some entrepreneurial instinct inherent in the Chinese.

I had a connection in Bocas that I met at my cousin Andrea's wedding in Massachusetts. Andrea's new husband's mom's friend Marcia spends time in Bocas and owns a piece of rental property here with her daughter Wiley. The first day in town I met Clay Blaker, a former pro surfer from Texas turned surf instructor. He takes care of the property and his wife Allene runs the local paper, the Bocas Breeze.

Clay took me out for a surfing lesson one day. My performance was mediocre, just barely managing to ride a few waves. The hardest part is paddling back out to catch the next wave; your arms wear out quickly. Clay says you have to surf regularly to keep the right muscles in shape. Once you can paddle proficiently you can learn to surf much faster. And the board chafes your nipples while paddling. After one lesson I was in great pain, which was only amplified by a soapy shower.

Clay's boat is called the Zeylia Mar, named after Wiley's daughter. Marcia didn't show up in Bocas during my stay, but I did meet Wiley and Zeylia on the last day in town.

I also tried scuba diving, which I highly recommend. The Buga Dive Shop sold me a lesson. Lindsay was my dive master (instructor) and Leon swam behind as a backup. Since nobody else signed up that day I got a private lesson. Pierre was worried about the safety of scuba diving without taking a few above-water classes first, but Buga struck me as very professional and they had layers of safety precautions in place. Lindsay talked me through all the equipment inspections that she did before diving.

The ocean floor was full of life. In some places you couldn't see the sand at all through all the coral and plants. Visibility was about eight or ten meters, and the deepest we went was sixteen meters. We saw countless types of fish, including some large catfish, crabs, lobsters, huge brain coral, squid, jellyfish, worms that zip into their holes if you get too close, and some weird spidery things. Some of the fish glowed with an iridescent blue and some even changed colors while we watched.

Lindsay and Leon were very cold on the return boat ride, but I was warm enough. Lindsay was very thin, which didn't help, but people here are acclimated to much warmer weather than me. I never considered wearing more than a t-shirt in town, but people here start showing up in jackets when the temperature gets down into the high seventies Fahrenheit.

The Buguita Cafe, which adjoins the dive shop, makes great fruit smoothies. I had three.

On Bastimentos, a nearby island, we hiked up the hill to Up In The Hill. It's a chocolate maker up in the hills. They sell cocoa bean nibs, bits of cocoa beans that have been fermented and sun dried. They also sell cocoa balls, which are balls of nibs that have been pressed together and are intended for grating. The woman who ran the shop told me this form of chocolate needed to be processed to remove the cocoa butter in order to arrive at baker's chocolate.

We had some excellent chocolate milk and truffles. It was all sweetened just right, meaning much less than average. The raw chocolate flavor was not masked by too much sugar.

Back down near the docks we had a delicious late lunch. I had a fillet of fish smothered in Caribbean sauce, which tasted something like salsa with curry. I really want to learn how to make it.

That's about all I have to say about Bocas del Toro. It would probably take about a month to get to know everyone in town. The cruisers at the marina had a lot of stories, so it would be nice to get to know more of them. I also wanted to talk to the dude on the street with a monkey in a diaper on his shoulder, but we don't speak the same language.