Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Back in the USA

I have arrived safely back in Key West, FL.  I expect to spend some time making boat repairs and then may make a short trip either up the Florida coast or to the Bahamas before going to Madison, WI in May for Spencer's graduation

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Off to Honduras

It is time to start my trek back to the United States to get out of the hurricane belt and also spend some time with my sons.  I am cycling up to travel to Utila, Honduras and the rest of the Bay Islands.  There are two reasons:  first I would like to see them, as they are a big cruiser destination.  Second, this will get Reboot further east.  That will make the passage up thru the Yucatan Channel more of a reach and less close hauled.

Unlike some of the places I have visited Honduras does not charge much for checking in and checking out.  The fees for Mexico, Belize and Guatemala may not seem like much, a couple of hundred US each, but if you are spending two or three days in each country as you pass through it is a lot of  money.  So I will bypass them all and head direct back to Key West, a distance of about 800 nm.  Of course if the weather turns bad I will duck in and take refuge.

This is a particularly good time to leave.  I am in the eastern trade winds.  This means that almost all of the time the winds are from the NE, E, or SE.  There is a weather system developing over the Gulf of Mexico that will shift the winds to the west for the next couple of days.  I hope for a great downwind run to the Bay Islands.

I am off this morning to Livingston to check out for an early morning departure tomorrow.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Riding Shotgun

One thing that I am still getting used to in Guatemala is the number of armed guards.  Go to the bank, go to the grocery store, go to a hotel and there are guys armed with shotguns standing out in front or inside the stores.  It gives the concept of  "riding shotgun" new meaning.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Tikal

I just returned from a land trip to Flores Guatemala and Tikal National Park.  Flores is the nearest town to Tikal hence the place everyone spends the night before visiting the park.  Tikal is a major Mayan city dating from about 700 BC (so far, that is the oldest structure they have dug up.)  It covers a very large area with temples and sub-cities spread throughout the jungle.  You can get a small sense of the size of the city from the photo on the left.  I will be uploading a lot more of my personal photographs once I get a high speed internet connection.

Alan and I took the launcha up to Rio Dulce where we boarded the "chicken bus" for the four hour trip to Flores.  We started out standing which was somewhat of a concern, particularly when two very stout Guatemalan women got on board to sell food and drinks.  But it turns out this is the "local" and over time enough people got off and we were able to get seats.  We arrived in Flores in the early afternoon and were greeted by Gabriel and Gerhart who had left Texan Bay a few days early on their way back to Ramstein, Germany for the summer.  They had already found a good and inexpensive hotel.  We took a room and prepared for the 5 AM departure via minivan to the park the next morning.  We were advised to go early as it gets very hot in the afternoon.

We were greeted by a beautiful dawn as we rode to the park arriving just before the official opening at 7AM.  We paid our modest entry fee and starting walking the park. We had focused our attention at the treetops when a large group of spider monkeys decided to walk right past us on the jungle floor.  A few minutes later one of the park workers offered us the opportunity to hold a black widow spider (I declined but Alan was game.)  Then we came around the corner to the Mayan central plaza site.  There are so many good pictures and descriptions on the internet that I will not bore you with mine except to say that it was magnificent

My afternoon entertainment was to take a 12 zip line tour through the jungle canopy.  You put on a harness and they hook you up to a cable and off you go, sliding down the cable to the next platform where you climb up and do it all over again.  It was great fun until just at the end we got an afternoon tropical rain forest downpour which assured that my bus ride back to the hotel was in sopping wet clothing. .

This morning we got back to Rio Dulce and this afternoon to Texan Bay.  Alan and I are contemplating buddy boating over to Honduras later in the week.  We will see if that works out.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cops as organized crime?

I don't normally post political items on this blog, but the following commentary from James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal really hit a nerve - do I have to add that I totally agree the cops are out of line?

The Leiter Side of Union Thuggery

"Collective bargaining" corrupts policemen and philosophers alike.

By JAMES TARANTO


Last week, as the Wisconsin stalemate was coming to an end, we worried about the potential threat that unionized policemen, in "solidarity" with other unionized government employees, might  tolerate or even participate in lawless behavior in order to undermine the workings of republican governance and preserve union privileges. Milwaukee radio host Charlie Sykes reports that Wisconsin businessmen are now receiving letters importuning them to oppose Gov. Scott Walker's efforts on behalf of Wisconsin's taxpayers:


***** QUOTE *****
The undersigned groups would like your company to publicly oppose Governor Walker's efforts to virtually eliminate collective bargaining for public employees in Wisconsin. While we appreciate that you may need some time to consider this request, we ask for your response by March 17. In the event that you do not respond to this request by that date, we will assume that you stand with Governor Walker and against the teachers, nurses, police officers, fire fighters, and other dedicated public employees who serve our communities.

In the event that you cannot support this effort to save collective bargaining, please be advised that the undersigned will publicly and formally boycott the goods and services provided by your company. However, if you join us, we will do everything in our power to publicly celebrate your partnership in the fight to preserve the right of public employees to be heard at the bargaining table. Wisconsin's public employee unions serve to protect and promote equality and fairness in the workplace. We hope you will stand with us and publicly share that ideal.

In the event you would like to discuss this matter further, please contact the executive Director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, Jim Palmer, at [phone number redacted].
***** END QUOTE *****

Palmer's union is the first of the seven "undersigned groups"; the others are two more police unions, two firemen's unions and two teachers unions. Although the new legislation excludes police and fire unions from its limits on so-called collective bargaining, one can understand why they would oppose it: Their own privileges become less secure if they are the only ones to enjoy them.

It should be acknowledged that cops and firemen have dangerous jobs and thus are arguably more deserving of generous retirement benefits than, say, motor-vehicle clerks or teachers. But the substance of their compensation is a separate question from the procedure by which it is arrived at. "Collective bargaining" is outrageous because it is an affront to democracy: a system of collusion between politicians and unions, which cuts out the taxpayers whose money they are spending.

No doubt there were compelling political reasons for Walker and Republican lawmakers to leave in place the privileges enjoyed by police and fire unions--whether crass partisanship (they are less Democratic than other unions), cops' and firemen's claim to public sympathy, or the desire to avoid (or at least minimize) the threat of a backlash by the workers on whom the government and citizenry depend to maintain order.

But in principle, so-called collective bargaining is no less objectionable in the case of cops and firemen than of anyone else. Once the public accepts that it is over for everyone else, there won't be much political support left for privileging the police and fire unions. Thus it makes perfect sense for them to side with the unions representing teachers and others with easier jobs. Their privileges are safe as long as everyone else's are at least contested.

In the letter to Wisconsin businessmen, however, we see why so-called collective bargaining is particularly corrupting to the police. Although the letter explicitly threatens only an economic boycott, when it is written on behalf of the police--of those on whom all citizens depend to protect their safety--it invariably raises the prospect of another kind of boycott. Can a businessman who declines this heavy-handed "request" be confident that the police will do their job if he is the victim of a crime--particularly if the crime itself is in retaliation for his refusal to support "the dedicated public employees who serve our communities"?

Sykes sums up the letter this way: "That's a nice business you got there. Pity if anything were to happen to it if, say, you didn't toe the line and denounce Governor Walker like we're asking nice-like." He's right.  "Organized" law enforcement bears a disturbing resemblance to organized crime.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

More rain

This morning the rain has stopped after about 24 inches in the last 24 hours.  I know this because the cleaning bucket on my stern has filled and been emptied twice.  Hopefully today the sun will come out and I can get some work on the deck done.  I have been told that this much rain for this long a period of time is unusual but not all that unusual.

I have taken advantage of the down time to start researching land tours.  My primary reason for coming to the Rio Dulce was to go inland and explore the Mayan ruins.  I have now discovered that Guatemala is quite an interesting place.  I am in the lowlands.  However there are a lot of high mountain areas and some desert.  In particular I was fasicnated by the term "cloud jungle."  This is a jungle area at 10,000 feet.  I have added it to my list of must sees.

It is unfortunate that there is no high speed internet at Texan Bay marina.  I would love to be able to upload some pictures, but that will have to wait. Actually, since there are no roads it is pretty amazing that there is electricity here - at least most of the time.  The area only got electricity two years ago so when the power went out in the rain storm it was no big deal to just fire up the generator to keep the beer cold.  Good thinking.  Perhaps more amazing is that fact that every structure on the Rio and in fact the town of Livingston at the foot of the river was brought in by boat.  Pretty cool.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

And the rains came

Yesterday I hopped on board the Texan Bay launch for a ride back down to Livingston.  I had no real reason to go but thought it might be a fun trip.  After the people who actually needed to go to Livingston had completed their business we headed back up the river.  On the way back Sherrie - the owner of Texan Bay showed us where the locals got fresh spring water.  Along the limestone wall of the gorge were a couple of tires tied to ropes and in the center a hose bringing fresh water down to the Rio.

We then stopped at a local hot spring.  It was really quite warm except when the wake from the passing boats would slop cool river water into the small lagoon.  At the same stop was a limestone cave.  Armed with flashlights we headed down into the side of the cliff.  It got quite hot quite quickly.  After about a 20 minute walk we asked our guide how much further the cave went and he said we could easily walk another three hours.  We passed on that and returned to the cool surface and a cold beer.

Last night the rains came.  I mean really came.  They started at about 6 PM local time and continued all night and into this morning.  The Noah's Ark end of the world kind of deluge.  Then again, this is the rain forest.  It is finally starting to let up so I will head back to Reboot to do some cleaning and get some other tasks done.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Texan Bay Marina

After a very quiet night off the coast of Guatemala in the company of AIRBORNE - a sailboat from Topeka Kansas where I once did Navy Reserve duty - I passed over the famous sand bar at the mouth of the Rio Dulce and anchored off Livingston, Guatemala.   With the "Q" flag flying I was visited by the customs and immigration people.  We were both offered the services of Raul, a local agent who comes highly recommended by the sailing community.  Major and I decided we would do the walk around in Livingston without the services of an agent.  Since AIRBORNE had already launched its dinghy I hooked a ride and we headed into town to get Quetzals and pay our clearing in fees.  Livingston is built on the side of a hill so we climbed up to the top and started the process of checking in.  As is typical of these evolutions one has to visit each office, sometimes more than once, to get the proper stamps and papers.  In between one visits the local bank to pay the required fees.

Livingston obviously has a crime problem.  Many of the buildings were surrounded by fences with concertina wire on the top.  To visit the bank you have to go into a man trap with a guard.  The outer door opens, you go into a small vestibule, and once the outer door is locked the inner door can be opened.  There were a variety of street beggars and  various people offering services.  In broad daylight I felt pretty comfortable but it is not a place I would choose to visit at night.  Having finished the check in procedure we adjourned to the dinghy dock where we paid off the "boat boy" who watched over the dinghy (he was 60 if a day) and headed back to the boats.

We headed up the Rio Dulce.  The lower part of the river is a 500 foot high limestone gorge full of birds, power launches and canoes.  The local population fishes the river and the major form of transportation in this area is by motor launch.  With the exception of two very thin spots (neither was marked in any way except for a rapidly declining depth gauge) the trip was beautiful and uneventful.  For once I was the following boat so all I had to do was stay in AIRBORNE's wake and hope they did not stop abruptly.

We arrived at the lower end of El Golfete, a large bay in the river.  Just off to our port was the Texan Bay Marina where we decided to spend the night.  They have great food, cheap cold beer (what a change from Belize) and good company.  After a fun evening talking to the owners and other cruisers I retired for the night at cruiser's midnight (8 PM.)  What a beautiful place.

I have decided to stay here for a day or two and unwind and then head further up the river.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Rio Dulce Gutamala

Yes I am here.  Yes it is beautiful.  Yvonne - eat your heart out.
Photos of Lighthouse Reef and the Rio Dulce gorge to follow when I get a high speed connection.

The strange cruising life

Today I checked out of Belize. There is a big controversy here about new charges from the Port Captains. When I was in Cucumber the Port Captain insisted on collecting a "clearing out fee." I said, but I am not clearing out. When I got to Punta Gorda to clear out the Port Captain said: "Oh, I see you already have the clearing out document." I said "Yes but I have overpaid since I did not stay in Belize as long as the Port Captain at Cucumber made me pay. The local guy said "I can't give you a refund." What a clear rip-off. I think this is a case of bureaucratic stupidity. The documents all seem appropriate and reflect the actual monies collected. Its just that the moneys collected have nothing in common with the appropriate fees. You might think this is no big thing but lots of people are skipping Belize this year rather than feeling like they have been ripped off. The radio nets are full of angry cruisers. Hopefully someone in the Belize Government will hear the clamor and make this all right in the future.

I told you that yesterday was a lazy day. Today was the opposite. It started at about 2 AM when the radar indicated that I was headed into a region of rain. Rain itself is not a problem but one never knows what kind of wind it will bring with it. Other than a few weird wind shifts the showers were pretty benign and REBOOT got a very needed fresh water wash down. Then the wind died completely. I of course can motor but I was trying to conserve fuel as diesel is $5.00 + US per gallon and also I am trying to learn how to run for days on end without using fuel. This is in preparation for long crossings, e.g. the Atlantic or Pacific.

I made it into Punta Gorda harbor by about 10:30 AM local and tied up at the Texaco fuel dock. I met four young Canadians who where sailing their boat to the Rio to store it for the summer as they had run out of money and needed to go back to work. I left REBOOT and walked down and checked out. On the way back I stopped at the local pizza place (Ed King are you listening) as I figured I could get a slice or two. I was greeted by a young Dutch woman. She told me that this was her third day on the job and then related her world travels since age 18. I have discovered many European men and women in their 20's and early 30's who seem to be "back packing" around the world. Apparently they are not concerned about jobs or careers.

The pizza was meh and the wind was kicking up so I went back to REBOOT and cast off. Punta Gorda harbor has no protection from the trade winds (why would it, the trades blow just about every day.) It was too late to head for Livingston Guatemala so I headed generally Northeast to hide behind one of the Cays for the night. By this time the wind was kicking 20 gusts to 25 and the seas were 4 to 5 feet on the nose. I finally said "what the heck am I doing, turned 180 degrees and headed for Bajo de Ox Tongue off Punta Manabique for the night. There I found another sailboat "AIRBORNE" that I have heard on the radio bands for the last few days. We chatted on the radio and agreed that we would head out tomorrow for Livingston, Guatemala and the Rio Dulce. Tonight we sit in the lee of the point with our Guatemalan courtesy flags and our yellow "leper" flags. The yellow flag indicates we need Customs and Immigration to come out and clear us into the country, in this case Guatemala.

So tomorrow the famous Rio Dulce, Velcro for Gringos...

Monday, March 7, 2011

Lazy Day

I left Half Moon Cay early this morning. Going back out is always a little bit easier as one has the track line on the chart plotter to mark your course in. It is difficult to be precise but it is some comfort, particularly if one has marked the hazards found on the way in. Early morning saw REBOOT heading south direct (or as direct as one can go without hitting anything) for Punta Gorda and checking out of Belize. WAYWARD SUN and CARIBBEAN SOUL II left a bit after me on their way back to Cucumber Beach to pick up mail and parts. I expect we will end up together again either in the Rio Dulce or the Bay Islands of Honduras. Which brings to mind that I have not seen HOBO II on the AIS for several days so I am not sure where Jim and Darlene are at the moment.

Today has been a lazy day. The winds are in the 10 knot range and a little further forward than I would prefer. (As Jack Aubrey would say, "Two points free" would be better. Since the winds are light the wave and current action on REBOOT's heading is more pronounced - my German Friend Otto Pilot is having a harder time keeping course - more like 30 degrees each side of the track. This results in major ongoing changes to sail trim so I slow down and speed up on a regular basis. The breeze is cool, the sky except for the cumulus clouds over the land quite clear and the ride comfortable. I am enjoying sailing along at an easy pace.

The transition back to sailing has been nice. Most of the last month I have been motoring against adverse currents and adverse winds. Today I have been able to keep the engine off and enjoy the quiet. The winds are to remain light overnight. Last night the sky was crystal clear. I am about 20 miles off the coast of Belize so what light pollution there might be should be very limited.

My friends on the Maritime Mobile Service Net ran phone patches to both Trevor and Spencer in the last couple of days. I find it so cool that I can talk to them while out in the middle of the ocean or in this case the Caribbean Sea. (A phone patch is hooking up my radio communication from REBOOT to shore with a telephone call to the desired party. Cool! Old fashioned too, this is how it was done before satellites and cellular telephones.)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A good day in Belize

Of course cruisers will tell you that the worst day afloat is better than the best day on land. Not quite true...
But... Today was one of those great cruising days. After a brief rainstorm in the middle of the night the dawn was clear and cool. REBOOT, in the company of CARIBBEAN SOUL II and WAYWARD SUN left Long Cay at Lighthouse Reef and headed to the National Preserve at Half Moon Cay, a journey of about 5 NM. It is a tough 5 miles as one is navigating around the reef the entire time. Even the channel has a few coral heads sticking up above the water. The lack of someone on the bow of REBOOT makes it all the more nerve racking.

After a couple of hours we all settled down off Half Moon Cay. This is a Belize National Monument. It has palm trees instead of mangroves and this means NO MOSQUITOES. I dressed in long pants and shirt expecting to be eaten alive when I went on shore to see the bird colony (Boobies and Frigates) so I was a bit overdressed when I discovered NO MOSQUITOES. Did I mention NO MOSQUITOES?

The preserve is amazing. There are about 4,000 Red Footed Boobies nesting. We hit it at just the right time, the young birds have hatched but are still in the nests. There are also Frigate Birds - black with a red crop. They are apparently "pirate" birds as the live by stealing from other birds. Their most interesting feature is the ability to blow up their crop to a big red ball. I got some great pictures of both which I will share when I have a fast internet connection.

Tonight we had a cruisers dinner on WAYWARD SUN. We watched the sun go down and then noticed that the sky is so clear you can see the dark part of the moon. To the North lots of heat lightening, but the rest of the sky is crystal clear with millions of stars.

Tomorrow I leave the company of CARIBBEAN SOUL II and WAYWARD SUN to head for Punta Gorda and check out of Belize. It is about a 24 to 36 hour trip depending on the winds. I will catch up with my friends in the Rio Dulce, they need to return to Belize City for a day or two to handle some things.

The "Old Corps"

In the United States Marine Corp, your Gunny will tell you, life is divided into two distinct segments: the "Old Corps" and the "New Corps." Everything was better during the time period of the "Old Corps" which ended, interesting enough, the day you enlisted!

I relate this piece of trivia as I think that the cruising life can be divided into the "Good Old Days" and "Now." Of course the "Good Old Days" ended the day you set sail. You are asking yourself "why does he bring this up now?" In the good old days it cost $7.95 US to check into and out of Belize. Now, depending upon how long you stay it costs between $100 US and $300 US per month. This lets you stay in the country. If you have read anything about Belize you know that one of its most famous attractions is the Blue Hole on Lighthouse Reef. Cruisers in the "Old Days" would go out and anchor, snorkel, perhaps SCUBA at the Blue Hole. Now it is a National Preserve. This means it now costs $30 US per person per day to anchor in the same place that was free in the "Old Days." Since you can't really appreciate the Blue Hole from sea level, and since the SCUBA diving isn't that great (there are very few fish other than sharks living in the hole) and since anchoring around the hole where the snorkeling is pretty good still costs $30 US I have decided to take a pass and dive the rest of Lighthouse Reef. It is free (except for Half Moon Cay and its red-footed boobie population. That costs $10 US per person per day.) It is truly sad that so many places now charge a fee.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

SCUBA!

Every time I hear that word I am reminded of the scene in the movie where the guy and girl are on their honeymoon in the Caribbean and this naked French guy comes up and says SCUBA? The girl ends up in his bed and that ends the very brief marriage. But the movie is actually quite funny. You can tell what an impression it made, can't tell you the name, the actor, the actress, but I do remember SCUBA?
That said, today in the company of Dave and Margi of WAYWARD SUN I did SCUBA off Long Cay at Lighthouse Reef. We had a great dive. It was about 30 feet under the dingy dropping down to about 75 feet. Actually it dropped of further but we turned around and worked our way back up the reef line.
The afternoons have become hot with a very strong sun so I find that I nap or just paddle around REBOOT in the water. About the best time to accomplish anything is early in the morning.
I had dinner on WAYWARD SUN, last night on CARIBBEAN SOUL II, what great evenings. I have become better at cooking something interesting for myself but that does not hold a candle to dinner on another boat.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Turneffe to Lighthouse Reef

I spent an interesting couple of days at Turneffe Atoll. There is a beautiful private resort on Big Cay Bokel. They were very gracious to me but were not really set up to provide services to passing boats. Turneffe Island Lodge is apparently a very small (36 guests) resort for diving and fishing. When I left this morning they had about 6 fishing boats out on the west side - each with a single fisherman. So you get the idea. They were kind enough to let me use the bar for a sundowner when I came in but as an all inclusive resort just paying for my drinks required me to go check with the management. It is a very beautiful place.

I had come into Turneffe via the Blue Creek pass. This takes one over a very shallow reef. I was in the general company of CARIBBEAN SOUL II and WAYWARD SUN. They both drew too much to attempt the passage. A good thing, as I only had 3 inches of water under REBOOT. Once over the reef it got quite comfortably deep again until at the end of the creek I once again went thru a very thin area. The next morning (yesterday) I decided to leave as the mosquitos and flies were terrible. I followed the guide book to the southern passage and could not find my way out. Every attempt resulted in shoaling and depths that were too shallow. So I decided to head back out the way I had come.

The short story is that I was on a falling tide and when I reached the first thin area I once again had no where to go. I subsequently got in the dinghy and rowed around to find that the actual deep water of the marked channel was not in the marked channel but off to the east. But at this point I had no where to go until the rising tide. So I settled down for the tide to finish going down and come back up again enough to get thru. Which it did at about 6 PM local time. This meant that I had to navigate back out of the river in fading daylight or wait until morning. Knowing that I still had to pass over the reef I decided that the light was OK for me to try so that I could pass over on the rising tide. Not to mention that inside the channel it was dead calm and I was being attacked by swarms of mosquitos. I made it with about 6 inches to spare, turned South and made anchorage near where CARIBBEAN SOUL II and WAYWARD SUN had dropped the hook the day before.

This morning we all got underway to Lighthouse Reef, the site of the "Blue Hole" that you see in all of the tour books about Belize and Central America. On Half Moon Cay inside the reef there is a colony of over 4,000 red-footed boobies. February and March are when the new babies hatch so it should be extra fun. There are also sea turtles and frigate birds. Unfortunately the advice is to bring your insect repellant. Hopefully I will be able to find an anchorage that will be OK and only have to deal with the mosquitoes when touring the shore.

Underway

Underway to Beltung. 548 nm. 5 to 6 days or more dependent upon wind. 1 POB + 1 Cat Fair winds and following seas :)