Log #56d Utila and Roatan in the Bay Islands of Honduras

January 6, 2013 in Log Series 50-59, Logs by Series, Series 56, The Logs

Placentia, Belize

Jan. 15, 2013

Hi Folks,

We are lounging around this tropical vacation paradise for a few days until our friend Linda departs for Belize City and her return to the winter cold of Toronto on Thursday. We have had some good sailing down from Belize City where we picked her up a week ago. We will stay in Belize for a few more days before heading back to Roatan. As this log describes, we enjoy Roatan and plan to spend the next couple of months down there before heading up to the Yucatan coast of Mexico in late March.

I still have yet to complete my logs of our travels out west in Canada, with the last one or two being into British Columbia and the Olympic Mountains in the state of Washington and our final destination in Oregon.  I also need to ad pictures to my recent logs on the website, but will wait until we are back in Roatan when I hope to have some last leisure time in that tropical paradise.

All the best,

Aubrey

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Log #56d Utila and Roatan in the Bay Islands of Honduras

Drowned Cays, Belize

Jan. 6, 2013

The anchorage in Utila (16 05.626N, 086 53.675W) was uncomfortable, but at least our anchor was holding well after three attempts when we dragged the first day after checking in. As mentioned in my previous Log #56c, the check-in was efficient with the Harbour Master, Customs and Immigration all in the same building on the main town dock. We were in Honduras with a 90 day permit for under $6.00. The anchorage was exposed to the west and the predominant winds while there were from the west. Murphy’s Law!

Next day (Nov. 30/12) we wandered over town to see the Jade Seahorse, an attractive cloistered garden/resort/bar a few hundred yards inland from the town docks. The two times we ambled through this storybook dreamscape no one was around. The weather was grey with intermittent showers but the gardens were still entrancing. A winding path, parts of it dirt, wooden planks, and ceramic tiles, took us through bowered arches with fascinating stuccoed shapes and colours with mosaics embedded with glass bottles, marbles and pieces of iridescent porcelain and ceramics. There were a few hanging collages adorned with circuit boards and keyboards from computers.

Log_56d_Jade_Seahorse_1                            Log_56d_Judy_under_Jade_Seahorse_arch

Log_56d_Jade_Seahorse_12             Log_56d_Jade_Seahorse_10

Log_56d_Jade_Seahorse_4          Log_56d_Jade_Seahorse_7

Three small wooden chalets tucked under the trees and into the hillside were available for rent; none appeared occupied while we were there. They had tasteful exterior decorations and colours that reminded me of huts from Aesop’s Fables. It was an enchanting world on the hillside with tropical foliage and overhanging trees giving me an impression of a terrestrial vision of the Beatles song about “I’d like to be under the sea in an octopus’s garden in the shade”.

Log_56d_Jade_Seahorse_3              Log_56d_Jade_Seahorse_5

The town has a main street along the waterfront with a wide variety of grocery stores and small kiosks, bars and restaurants, three churches, some tourist and dive shops, a few banks with slouching guards armed with rifles or machine pistols, a few hostels for backpackers, and a few upscale resort hotels. The atmosphere was “laid back” but busy with motorized tricycle taxis, bicycles, SUV’s and ATV’s dominating the streets. Of course there were no sidewalks, and we were warned it was a case of “pedestrians beware”.

Unfortunately the weather was grey and rainy for the three days there, and so we left early morning Dec. 2 for the 33 mile passage to French Cay Harbour on Roatan, the next large island east of Utila. It was a pleasant passage where we were able to sail half the time, and flew our spinnaker for few hours in the light airs. We fly the spinnaker loose footed like a drifter, but this time I experimented with holding it out for greater stability with our whisker pole. It seemed to work quite well and prevented the spinnaker from wrapping around our forestay when the wind was dead astern. We may have to replace the whisker pole at some time as the sleeve no longer extends, and now is at a fixed length, held into the larger pole with duct tape. However I will probably wait until it pulls itself apart, then replace it. In the meantime it works at its set length.

We had no paper charts of Roatan, and the electronic chart on our laptop and on the GPS were not detailed enough to indicate the entrance into French Cay Harbour. We overshot the entrance, going beyond Big and Little French Cay only to see boats quietly at anchor behind them but a wall of coral awash across the entire gap between Little French Cay and Fantasy Island. The entrance must be behind us, west of Big French Cay. We turned around and using eyeball navigation entered the reef strewn roadstead, keeping well off any white water until we saw a post a few hundred yards off shore. We could identify shallow water to the right of it and assumed the deeper water to the left as we approached, leaving it to starboard. A bit further in we saw a couple of bobbing white floats that we presumed would lead us in towards the shrimp boats alongside the docks. If there is enough water for shrimp boats there should be enough water for us. We motored up past these boats, about fifty feet from them in 8 to 10 feet of water, as we made our way over to the anchorage where we saw a dozen or more sailboats at anchor. As we worked our way towards the anchored boats we kept away from a dark brown area that was sea grass in shallow water on our right, and noted another shoal 100 yards to our left. We came up between some anchored boats, and dropped the anchor astern of a catamaran in 12 feet of water and let ourselves drift back and use a bit of reverse engine power to dig the anchor in. We didn’t want to put out too much chain as we were concerned we might swing over to the shoal on our left. We were here. (16 21.271N, 086 26.543W)

Shortly after Wayne and Elly from Zeppelin, a large Canadian sailboat, came over and welcomed us. After talking with them for a while Judy’s apprehension about security in Honduras was reduced. She had not wanted to come to Honduras or the Bay Islands of Honduras as she had read of several robberies on Noonsite, a cruisers’ website, which listed several problems over the past few years. However, we were assured by Wayne, who had been here for over six months, that the islands are quite different from the mainland forty miles away. Boat or dinghy thefts are almost unknown here, and the last incidence of a theft last year resulted in the locals investigating and returning the stolen property. The local people are friendly and want to encourage tourism. Roatan is a well-known tourist destination with three to five large cruise ships visiting Coxen Hole and West End on Roatan several days each week. It has an international airport as well with flights from both Canada and the U.S.

Log_56d_Cruise_ship_in_Roatan_1         Log_56d_Cruise_ship_in_Roatan_2

We enjoyed it here so much we decided to stay here for much of the winter.

The anchorage is between Little French Cay on the west, Fantasy Island 800 yards to the east, and the shoreline 800 yards to the north, but with a couple of shoals towards shore. The space between Little French Cay and Fantasy Island is well protected by a long stretch of reef breaking the surface, serving as a good breakwater and an excellent diving and snorkelling location.

Log_56d_Fantasy_Island_side_of_anchorage            Log_56d_Little_and_Big_French_Cays

Looking south is Fantasy Island and the protective reef, and to the southwest are Little and Big French Cays.

Actually this whole area around the anchorage is a Marine Park, no fishing, lobstering, spearfishing or conch harvesting allowed. The water is warm and exceptionally clear. We can make out the ripples of the sand 12 feet below our waterline.

However, there is no wind break and we dragged embarrassingly a couple of times over the first few days in 25 knot SE winds. We now put out more than 5:1 all chain scope to ensure good holding. (By scope I am talking about the ratio of the amount of chain to the depth of the water. If the water is 15 feet deep and the bow of the boat is 5 feet above the water, we use a depth factor of 20 feet, and let out at least 100 feet of chain for a 5:1 ratio.) There is an active long term group of cruisers anchored here in French Cay Harbour, some transients staying only a few days, but others like us planning to stay several months and some for years (expats). The cruisers have organized a morning net on VHF channel 74, and use channel 72 as the calling channel. Wayne and Elly on Zeppelin co-ordinate the net, and offer other services to the cruisers such as yoga classes and reef snorkelling and dive trips. They are also a fund of local knowledge for tours, mechanics, electricians, doctors and various specialty stores over town.

We save our vegetable scraps to feed the iguanas at the Iguana Farm ashore .

Log_56d_Feeding_time_at_the_Iguana_Farm              Log_56d_Smiling_Iguana

Feeding time at the Iguana Farm                                                          A smiling Iguana

Nearby Brooksy Point Marina is very co-operative with cruisers, anchored out or staying alongside, and has set up a kind of local cruisers club at the marina. Membership is $15.00 a week which includes garbage disposal, marina free WiFi, showers, dinghy dock, DVD and book lending library, bar service, water, gas, diesel, and propane refills, weekly bus trips into Eldon’s (the local grocery store), pizza nights, and a venue for those who want to play dominos, poker, or have an impromptu jam session for the musically inclined. Mike, the owner, also helps cruisers check into the country by taking them to the Harbour Master’s in Coxen Hole, and provides a weekly island tour for those wanting an overview of the whole island. He is a very co-operative gentleman. Unfortunately his beautiful 55 foot sloop recently caught fire from a propane leak and the entire inside of the boat was gutted. He plans to rebuild it.

Log_56d_Fire_gutted_boat

French Cay Harbour is within a Marine Park, and no fishing or harvesting lobster or conch are permitted. Within 200 yards is a Marine Park sign and a snorkelling buoy just inside the reef, to which dinghies can be attached. We snorkelled on this buoy a couple of times, for fantastic experiences. The first time we drifted to the right of the buoy to see dozens of lobsters safely tucked under overhanging live coral. Thousands of colourful reef fish from minnow size to four foot long barracudas were meandering around the coral heads. Vibrant purple sea fans wafted back and forth in the gently surging clear water, some on small coral rocks on the sandy bottom, and others on larger coral heads adorned with grey convoluted brain coral, rust coloured coral casings, and intense white or black coral offshoots. The crevices into the coral hid small colourful tropical fish, darting in and out the openings. We touched the small tube worms to see their fan-like flowers (actually, gills) immediately collapse. Spindly sea urchins were tucked into some of the crevices, their long black spikes daring us to try to try to touch them. No thanks! It is a wonderful colourful, living, undersea world in three to eight feet of warm water. We don’t bother with any wetsuits, but I wear a t-shirt to reduce the sun exposure.

Our next snorkelling trip was to the left of the buoy. This area had smaller clumps of coral, fewer lobsters, a few conch, but still was inhabited by the small colourful tropical fish. This time we saw a lionfish, the scourge and predator of the Caribbean, suspended just above the white sandy bottom adjacent to a small coral head. It is a beautiful fish with its fins, tendrils and spikes wafting around all sides of its protected body. The fins and spikes undulating around its body carry a toxin that kills other fish or stings any swimmer trying to touch it with a bare hand. It has no natural predators that can attack it and so it dominates the areas it inhabits, killing off the local fish population. It is an invasive species that marine authorities are trying to eliminate. In Roatan the marine park is sponsoring a lionfish spearfishing class, complete with spears and information on how to handle, clean, and cook the varmints. People who have taken the course are allowed to go spearfishing for them even in the marine park. Humans may be their only predator. This is one species the authorities hope will be overfished.

Another interesting sea creature we saw was a small octopus. It was just a grey blob sprawled over a rock on the bottom, its different coloured eyes the only distinguishing feature. As we approached, it gathered itself up into an undulating pulsing blob and slithered a few feet onto another piece of coral, slightly changing its colour from the dusty brown of its original rock to grey/white colour to blend in with the sand around its next location. We approached again, but this time it swooped its webbed tentacles up above the small rock, and became a streamlined blob, the tentacles drifting behind the head, jetting away from us to settle and flow over another bottom location 20 feet away. It was interesting to see its gelatinous mass settle onto another clump of rock and change colour to blend into its contours. After a couple more small chases we left it to continue exploring this stretch. We saw a couple of lobsters but not as many as on the other side of the buoy. However we also saw a moray eel and some conch. The reef around here is alive and colourful, some of the best we have seen.

More about Roatan and our passage up to Belize in my next log.