by Sharon Kratz, s/v Rose of Sharon
We utilized DMA Chart 28150, Reed’s Nautical Almanac and Calder’s Cruising Guide to the Northwest Caribbean for information regarding anchorages on the Island of Roatan.
In December 2007 and into the new year, the weather continued to be unreliable as S/V Rose of Sharon anchored in French Harbor, Roatan. Cruisers in Panama were seeing record amounts of rainfall. Completely unannounced and unanticipated squalls were coming and going. I became antsy to leave the beautiful anchorage despite our idyllic days spent reading, playing cribbage, swimming, snorkeling, or visiting the lobby bar at Fantasy Island Resort. At one point I made plans to depart on a certain day, completely oblivious to the fact that I hadn’t consulted with my Captain.
When I mentioned that we should leave the next day and continue on our passage, he informed me that he was tired, we didn’t have a tight agenda, and he liked it at Roatan and didn’t want to leave yet. End of discussion. Joe works hard to keep everything working well and shipshape, and all decisions – whether to go or stay, whether to continue cruising or retire to liveaboard boating again – are ultimately his. I’m just along for the ride.
At a nickel-a-point, my cribbage games’ debt to Joe had entered double digits so we switched to gin rummy, where I lost even more money. We sanded our rub rails and toe rails, prepping them for some new coats of Cetol. Our days were sunup to sundown, and I read a new book every other day, devouring each one as if it might be my last chance to read again. I love being at anchor! Most days, the Caribbean breeze blew through the boat’s netted hatches, keeping us cool. We had taken to sleeping separately; Joe in the main salon and me in the bunk, with our battery-powered fans pointing directly at our respective faces on nights when it was so warm that body contact would be almost stifling.
I had purchased several yards of bridal veil at Wal-Mart in a shade of royal blue, no less! I couldn’t imagine any wedding would possible want that color of veil, but it made for a fun “second screen” which I sewed onto our hatch screens. We’d heard the bugs would be unmerciful at Guanaja, Honduras and Bocas Del Toro, Panama, and our screens as they were could not keep out the tiny little brown bugs that appeared at sundown or the ever-aggressive and hungry no-see-ums. The tacky bridal veil added an interesting touch of color to our hatches, I thought.
Warren the lobster man visited occasionally, offering three lobster tails for “fi dollah,” and on one visit, offered some marijuana in trade for a jar of peanut butter.
Most cruisers discover satellite radio provides entertainment anytime, anywhere, and we had already updated our receiver once. My tastes ran to “Siriusly Sinatra,” while Joe tuned into “Margaritaville,” which is country-western music with steel drums and maybe a xylophone. Joe listened to talk radio until I was sure his brain would turn to mush.
I spent most nights dealing with the Dinghy Bandits, yelling from my berth in the stern of the boat to Joe, in the salon of the boat, telling him to go outside and check the dinghy, and he never did. I would sometimes pull the netting down from my hatch and stand on my bunk, looking around and shining my flashlight on the dinghy. Joe had taken the larger Mercury engine off the dinghy and it sported the 4 HP Johnson, which reduced our dinghy’s rate of speed substantially. He liked it because it was easier to raise and lower the dinghy with the smaller engine.
Some nights, I would sling the mosquito net off the hatch opening and the weights would rattle loudly as I went up to the cockpit, stark naked and armed with my flashlight, to catch the Dinghy Bandits. If that wouldn’t scare them away, nothing would. I never saw the Dinghy Bandits, but I knew they were out there, plotting to steal our rusty gas can or our beloved dinghy.
The warm, sunny days were interspersed with windy, turbulent days and so far, all weather faxes and weather reporting had been unreliable. One night, as I lay comfortably in my bunk, enjoying the gentle rocking of the boat and – for once – not worried about the Dinghy Bandits, I heard the wind pick up. Then I felt the increase of the wind, in the motion of the rolls of our anchored boat. We’re having quite a little blow, I thought to myself, as the steady rock-rock-rock of the boat increased to the speed of a Latin dance. “Rock-rock-ROCK!” sang our boat, in a decidedly salsa rhythm. Then I heard rumblings above me, thumpings, and the motion of the boat changed to a bounce. Good, I thought sleepily, and rolled over on my side. Captain Joe’s up there and has it under control. I can lie here and maybe he’ll never know I’m awake and won’t tell me to do anything. I smiled.
No longer rocking, the boat was now bouncing hard. “Whump-whump-WHUMP!” she sang in a bass now, her voice becoming ominous. I frowned. That doesn’t sound right, I thought. I wonder what Joe’s doing up there?
I sat up and looked out my port hatch. I could see the front yards of the small houses that dotted the shoreline of the French Harbor anchorage. I could see the lights in the houses. And we were close, really close, to those houses that had been about 200 yards off our port when we went to bed. Stunned, I turned to look out my starboard hatch for the powerboat that had been anchored next to us for several days. It was gone!
I leapt from my bunk and rushed to the salon to find Joe sound asleep and oblivious to the goings-on. “Wake up!” I shouted. “We’re dragging!” Then I rushed into the cockpit, where my panic turned to near hysteria, because we were almost under the bow of a big, black shrimp boat at dock. Joe ran up the companionway steps, looked around in confusion and said, “I’m not believing this.”
We did not even discuss The Plan. He turned on the engine, got behind the wheel and put her in forward. We didn’t move. Wordlessly, he worked with the rudder, nudging the boat into reverse, then forward, cutting the wheel slightly, reverse, then forward, and when we eased out off the bottom, he left the cockpit and rushed to the bow. The wind was gusting to 40 knots and screaming crazily in what had been a tranquil night. He bent over the anchor and shouted, “Straighten your wheel! Forward!” I followed his instructions: Turn left, forward. Reverse. Straighten your wheel. Right. More speed. We were doing fine except for a couple of times when I couldn’t hear him and I shouted, “WHAT?!” and he would turn toward me and shout louder, “LEFT! LEFT!”
It’s times like that I wish we had an electric windlass or our big-o crewman Jon to help my old man. Our anchor is a Scottish Lewmar CQR 45-pound plow anchor, and it has held fast in some of the worst situations and highest winds. While other boats do the “anchor dance” as often as not, our trusty CQR has proven dependable. It has the Lloyd’s of London Register Approval as a high-holding power anchor and all CQR anchors are guaranteed for life against breakage. But Joe says it gets heavier every year.
So when Joe returned to the cockpit after re-setting the anchor and we sat together, staring at the churning seas and wondering what the heck we were doing out in this kind of storm when we could be snug and protected somewhere in matching La-Z-Boy recliners, arguing about which television channel to watch, I posed the question, “Why did we drag? We never drag.”
“Bad anchoring,” Joe said. “We dropped it in a bad spot. It would have held if I’d hit a sandier place.” It was 3:00 a.m. and we went back down to our respective bunks. The next morning Joe said I missed the second storm, which hit with a vengeance at about 5:00 a.m. No bad weather of any kind had been predicted for the Bay Islands.
We also discovered, by the dawn’s early light, that we had reset the anchor in exactly the same spot. Joe grabbed his snorkel gear and spent half an hour with his face in the water, studying the anchorage. When he returned, he said, “You should see the trough we dug. We could plant corn here.” You can take the boy out of Indiana, but you can’t take the Indiana out of the boy. Then he put out our other anchor, a 35-pound Lewmar Delta.
He said, “The good news is, we know if we drag, we won’t hit that shrimp boat because we’ll run aground first.” You gotta love his attitude.
Two days later, the weather predicted a hard-hitting front from the north. South of us, winds were blowing steadily at 24 knots and one underway vessel reported they were “getting pounded out here” between the winds and the waves. To make it more interesting, there was a sub-tropical depression east of us, moving west toward the norther. “What’s a sub-tropical depression?” I asked Joe. "That’s another name for a hurricane,” he laughed.
We were out of water and decided we’d been at anchor long enough for a splurge: we tied up at Fantasy Island Resort’s dock. They charged us $45/night plus fifteen cents per gallon for water plus 45¢ per kilowatt for electricity. It was an extravagance, but it was also New Year’s Eve. We thought we deserved a good night’s sleep for a couple of days anyway. After we secured the boat, I visited the office and they ran our credit card and then told me our “room number.” It was 9991. And I could have all the rum and cranberry juice drinks I wanted, just by telling the bartender, “9991.”
The next morning, Joe wanted to go for a walk on the beach and I hate walking. I wanted to spend New Year’s Day cooking my black-eyed peas and watching movies. But that’s what a good marriage is: compromise. Joe wanted to go for a walk on the beach, with me, and I needed to go. So I went, but as soon as we neared the ocean, I said, ���I have to swim. Come swim with me.” Joe doesn’t like swimming all that much, plus he was surreptitiously eyeballing a topless woman sunbather, but that’s what marriage is. He compromised and went for a swim with me.
As he left the water and returned to the beach, I said, “We were going to walk around that tip of land, right?” Joe said, yes, that was the plan. I wanted to swim around the tip of the peninsula instead of walk. Joe told me it was further than I thought, but I wanted to do it so I swam the half mile around the land and Joe walked the half mile along the beach, and he was happy walking and I was happy swimming and we were together. Now, that’s compromise!
In addition to enjoying the luxury of dock life, even for three days, we roamed the grounds of Fantasy Island, which were alive, literally, with many kinds of tropical dwellers. Monkeys would pose for photographs for the price of a packet of sugar or a potato chip. The iguanas roamed the beach and the lawn with a territorial laziness. They knew who the guests were, and it wasn’t them. Even the iguanas posed for pictures, but would only tolerate it for so long before meandering into the underbrush.
The second night, Joe left his bedding in the main salon and invaded the main bunk again, shoving me over to my side of the bed and claiming his rightful space. “I don’t think I want to sleep together anymore,” I said to him as he rearranged the sheets. I had moved all my necessary sleep tools to a new spot: hands-free miner-type flashlight and book light for reading when the batteries were low; mosquito repellant for quick kills; Skin-So-Soft®, which I slathered all over my body and was the true bug deterrent; and three hand-held computer games, including an annoying version of “Wheel of Fortune” that made me crazy with its robotic “Ohhhs!” from the fake audience when I selected a letter that was not part of the word. Joe assumed his position, which now put his feet in my face and my feet in his face. “It’s too hot to sleep together,” I whined.
He caressed my ankle a bit, then said, “Why don’t we just turn on the air conditioning?”
Joe switched the electricity from one place to another place, shut the door to our berth, and twenty minutes later we were snuggled together under sheets, the room having taken on the temperature of a meat locker. About midnight, he woke up. “Did you hear that?” he said to me.
“Welcome to my world,” I mumbled sleepily and rolled over. I felt him get out of bed and leave the room. We have a center-cockpit boat, which means we have a tiny “hallway” of sorts leading from our berth, past the sea berth to the galley and salon area. I heard a crash and heard him shout, “Whoa-a-a-a-a!” and I leapt up in time to see him flailing and flying back to our room, waving a flashlight crazily.
Oh, my gosh, I thought. There’s someone in there! Thieves! Maybe killers even! I grabbed the baseball bat at the foot of the bed without thinking, which was a good thing because my mind was flying in about twenty different directions. Joe slammed the door shut behind him. “Is someone in there?” I whispered. He nodded.
Then I said the words my family has come to expect from me, including disasters involving blood and stitches: “Get the camera!”
We eased together, moving as one down our little hallway and toward the galley. Joe reached out and got the camera off the Nav Station. “It’s not a raccoon. It’s some kind of . . . marsupial,” he continued, still whispering. He aimed his flashlight at the countertop and sink, which were laden with the dirty dishes from our New Year’s Day extravaganza meal. We’d had a canned ham baked in mangoes and topped with chives, fresh yams, fresh cabbage, cornbread with cracked pepper, and black-eyed peas. After all our one-pot meals, this one, with identifiable foods served separately, was a special treat. The dirty pans and dishes were stacked and all the leftovers had been put away in the refrigerator. Except the cornbread, and this was what the little guy was seeking. He sniffed the cupcake pan and nibbled thoughtfully at the crumbs. He was quite pretty, with soft brown fur and gentle black eyes. He moved gracefully and deliberately over our countertops, exploring and examining the dishes as carefully as a scientist.
Like every other critter on Fantasy Island, he was fine with being photographed and did his best to cooperate. He wasn’t at all bothered by my laughter or Joe’s concern as he worked his way across the countertops until he finally found the baggy of cornbread.
I can catch bees in mid-air flight while Joe flails at them with any weapon available, including yardsticks and tennis racquets. His Woody Allen antics used to irk me. “Oh, buck up!” I’d say, as I trapped a yellow jacket in a towel and then beat the towel to death with my bare hands. If I was feeling karma-driven, I’d take the bug outside and free it to go forth and sting elsewhere. As our marriage matured, ripened, and began to rot, I saw his bug mania as one of his cutest quirks.
But this was no little bee or wasp. This was . . . well, I didn’t know what it was. “Maybe it’s a three-toed sloth,” said Joe.
I continued to photograph the creature as it meandered in and out of our stacked dishes until it found the bag of cornbread muffins and began ripping it open, nimbly, with its four or five front toes. When the photography session ended, I picked up a small hatch screen and began prodding it toward the main hatch. It did not respond with hisses or alarm or aggression of any kind. In fact, it did not respond at all. It simply dodged my prods and continued eating the cornbread muffins. Joe got the broom and handed it to me. “Try this,” he said. “And don’t try to pick him up. We don’t want to have to get rabies shots.” Joe knows me well, because that was exactly what I thinking. This animal seemed so docile that it was tempting to forget he was a “wild animal.”
The broom didn’t work either. Again, it flinched and cowered, but didn’t move or retaliate in any way to our gentle nudgings. Finally, I reached in and quickly snatched the baggy of cornbread away from him. I fished out a piece and tossed the remainder into the cockpit. Then I waved the cornbread cupcake at him and he followed me, around the counter, across the stove top, toward the sink . . . and he was so darn cute that when he sat up and reached for the cornbread, I handed it to him.
“Good grief!” Joe said. “You’re supposed to get him out of here, not feed him!”
“I’m sorry.” I replied. “I lost my focus. Let me try again.” I reached out and deftly removed the cornbread from the animal’s paws and once again began coaxing him toward the exit. Meanwhile, Joe went into the cockpit and returned with the fish net.
“Perfect!” I said, as Joe lined up for the scoop. I got the hatch screen and began easing the animal toward Joe’s net then Joe lunged in to bag the little guy. The animal fell into the net and began struggling frantically while Joe yelled and I laughed.
“He’s climbing out!” Joe screamed as he clambered up the companionway steps. I thought I was going to split a seam, I was laughing so hard.
“He’s on deck!” Joe continued to give me a status report as I removed the chip from my camera and powered up the computer. I heard some crashing and stomping outside, then Joe tossed the bag of cornbread onto the steps. “Throw this away,” he said.
“As I tossed it into the trash, I said, “Why didn’t you let him have it?”
“I gave him two pieces,” he replied. “He went into the bushes with one. The security guard came by while I was chasing him off the boat.”
“Maybe he heard all our yelling,” I laughed. “What did the security guard say?”
This time, Joe laughed too, “He said, ‘Oh, what a beautiful animal.’ ”
We were loathe to leave Fantasy Island but certainly couldn’t afford to stay there. As the weather cleared and the weekend neared, we decided to move around the corner to Jonesville Bight and drop anchor at Hole in the Wall.
Hole in the Wall is a bar/restaurant. I thought it was named “Hole in the Wall” because it was nestled in a remote place. I discovered that the building behind the restaurant was built adjoining a cave entrance. The cave appeared to be a hole in the limestone cliff. Thus, “hole in the wall.” The owner is Bob and his macaw, Abogado. Bob sailed into the small cove and his catamaran sunk, so he simply stayed put. He built the restaurant above his sunken ship and it has been wildly successful. Dwayne and Harry are the chefs and managers. These three men epitomize the character of the bar. They are quiet, unprepossessing, and a bit rough on the outside but have warmth, dry wit, and are of solid, basic construction.
It used to offer free wifi, and cruisers would line the picnic tables every day, socializing, internetting and drinking Salva Vida beers. They were struggling with the wifi company to get their internet back up and running while we were there, so they may have it again.
If you want to drop anchor in the outer harbor of Jonesville Bight, you just follow your charts or Calder, and the anchorage is fine. But if you want more protection and isolation with nearer access to the Hole in the Wall restaurant, you have to go “under the wires” to the “inner harbor.”
A pair of high electrical wires are strung across the entrance to the small cove, and they are angled in such a way that a sailboat can slip underneath them in one spot. ONE spot. That place is as close to the left bank as possible, in nine feet of water.
As you approach the anchorage, there is some kind of building in the middle of the water. It’s actually a barge on a shoal that a shanty was built atop to create a local bar. There are small poles with electrical wire strung from the shanty to the left bank atop a shoal area. Keeping that building on your port side, you pass it slowly, edging close to the right bank. After you pass it, turn left in front of the high wires, motoring toward the cottage-lined left bank. When you are so close to the left bank you think you’re too close, turn right. You’ll be in nine feet of water, the electrical lines will be above your mast, and you’ll get into the inner harbor just fine. Stay close to the left bank and when you are near the restaurant, angle to your right and into the secluded cove. It’s a good anchorage.
While you ease under the electrical lines, the residents and children of the cottages will stop whatever they are doing and watch, curious to see if you’ll hit the high wires. Usually, if you go slow enough, one of the men at Hole in the Wall will dinghy out and guide you in. They monitor VHF 72. We lucked out; Harry sped out to meet us and led us under the wires. But still, I shut my eyes and flinched as we eased safely under the electrical lines.
We anchored at 16°23.40N, 086°22.75W. The only other vessel in the small anchorage was S/V Belladonna. Dave and his wife Donna officially welcomed us to Hole in the Wall, where they were “holed up” waiting for a part.
The Sunday all-you-can-eat barbecue at Hole in the Wall is not to be missed. It has become one of the premier events on the island of Roatan, bringing visitors from cruise ships and resorts every Sunday. The small structure that is Hole in the Wall won’t support a huge crowd, but over 100 people gathered there the day Joe and I attended the bbq. The cost is $20/person and I’ve never heard anyone complain because every single item on the buffet is prepared to perfection and there are no instant or pre-packaged anythings. The lobster tails are cooked in a savory vegetable broth, the beef is grilled good enough for a Texan’s scrutiny, and Abogado the macaw is the only ham in the place; he twirls and spins on his perch for an appreciative audience.
For cruisers, there’s “running out of money,” like when you have to go back to work (that may be in our forecast), and there’s “running out of money,” as in you need to find an ATM.
We had what I considered to be ongoing money problems in Honduras. The account that had our monthly stipend, courtesy of Joe’s retirement, was our Kruising Kitty. In Guatemala, the ATMs accepted the card and Emy accepted our checks. No problems. In the Bay Islands, no ATM machine accepted that card. The Honduran machines would accept our ATM card for another bank and another account we had, which typically had no money. Every time Joe accessed the internet, he shuffled from the savings account that we weren’t supposed to touch to the checking account we never used but now needed, and his retirement funds sat idle. He said it would “all work out,” but when it comes to money, I’m not capable of thinking outside the box.
The real trick was finding a working ATM machine to begin with. In French Harbor, the banks’ and the Eldon’s Supermarket ATMs malfunctioned more than they functioned. We set aside a day to go a-hunting for money and it took the entire day.
First, we dingied out of Jonesville Bight and past Bodden Bight, then past Hog Pen Bight to Oak Ridge Harbor, staying inside the reef. Calder’s offers information for sailing vessels to the area outside the reef, but it is not advisable to attempt it inside. Anyway, after Bodden Bight, it is simply not possible for anything other than a small boat or dinghy to traverse because there is a small footbridge that spans the narrow waterway at one point. We dinghied to BJ’s Backyard Cafe and Bar and tied up under the owner’s supervision. We asked him if it would be better to tie up elsewhere, but he assured us that if we did, our dinghy would be gone upon our return.
Internet at BJ’s is free if you are eating or drinking, and we planned to have cold beer upon our return from the Money Hunt. We were also told that the restaurant monitors VHF 72 and if you call ahead and request ribs, by the time you arrive there will be a feast in the makings for you and your crew.
Joe and I began a walk uphill from the water to where a taxi and bus stand was located. I was beginning to perspire, and by the time we reached the taxi stand I was sweaty, dusty, and ready to ride. We negotiated a price (140 lempiras, or about $7 USD), and directed the driver to take us to the bank which had an ATM that had always worked. The drive was a typical Central American taxi ride, where you hang on to the hand holds that are always mounted for passengers because it’s a wild and fast adventure, with road dust a-flying, blurred visions of chickens and goats dodging your oncoming taxi, and incredible close-ups of scooters’ and semis’ rear-ends, because the driver rarely uses the brake pedals. Still, I was able to see some lovely Roatan wooded and tropical landscapings, including postcard-perfect scenes of the Caribbean and even though the wind was road-dusty, it was cooling.
The bank’s ATM was down, but the bank guard assured us the ATM at Eldon’s Supermarket was working that day. Our driver took us to the market for $2 more dollars and we sent him on his way, because I wanted to pick up a few items. Eldon’s ability to process our Visa card never failed!
Meanwhile, a repairman was working on the supermarket’s ATM. Joe stood beside the man until he pronounced the machine “fixed,” then the repairman watched as Joe inserted our ATM card that always worked. It was rejected. The repairman then inserted our ATM card and the machine’s screen lit up with a frowny face. Then the repairman inserted his test ATM card and received some money, proving that the machine worked but our ATM card did not. Joe sighed and inserted our card again and this time, the screen displayed a sad-faced computer holding a set of carpentry tools.
“It says it is broken,” said the repairman. He said there was no estimated up-time for the ATM, so we needed to collect our groceries and move on, this time to the airport, which reportedly had two ATMS, one which gave U.S. dollars!
The first taxi driver I met would not drive us the 9 kilometers to the airport without an extravagant fee, but when he heard what I was willing to pay ($6), he motioned to an older vehicle with a young man at the wheel. “He will do it,” he said.
Our new driver, Aden, proudly displayed his brand-new taxi-driver license on the rearview mirror, and drove slowly and cautiously toward the airport. The car stalled when going uphill, but we made it to the airport, where I gave Joe the following instructions: “Hit every account we have, get as much U.S. money you can get your hands on, and try for four thousand lempiras, using both ATMs! May the force be with you.”
Aden sat on a curb in a shady spot and I sipped my water and hoped for the best. Joe returned within ten minutes and I eagerly asked, “Did you hit pay dirt?”
“Well, the ATM machine that gives U.S. dollars was out of order, and the other one had a three-thousand lempiras maximum,” Joe reported. “So we have three-thousand lempiras.”
There we were, with $200 to our name, so we did what anyone who is living on the edge of the envelope in Roatan should do: we told Aden to take us to Bojangles Fried Chicken. I cut a deal with Aden that included the ride to the airport and a ride back to Oak Ridge Harbor, bought the 8-piece box of Bojangles Chicken, and the three of us eased on down the road eating fried chicken and tossing our chicken bones out the window.
Cruisers to Roatan either despise or delight in Bojangles Chicken. “It’s so greasy, and breaded and salty,” complained a British cruiser.
That’s what makes it so good.
Back at BJ’s Backyard, Joe drank Salva Vida beer and I drank Port Royal beer because the next day we would depart for Port Royal.
As we left the Hole in the Wall anchorage, owner Bob sounded a farewell on a conch shell. The conch shell’s music is bold, but at the same time somewhat lonely, and I think that’s what we are too. We were leaving friendly faces to boldly go where everyone wants to go, and it’s a lonely journey. If you and your partner or crewmate aren’t best friends (and it helps if you like board games), then cruising will be an intolerable lifestyle.
It was a lovely two-hour jaunt to Port Royal, with blue skies, calm seas and a light breeze on the nose. Joe and I chatted the entire time and we were making the turn into Port Royal Harbor before we knew it.
The Port Royal Bay is over two miles long and as pretty an anchorage as you’ll ever find, located just behind the reef and bordered by tropical jungle on one side and the Caribbean Sea on the other. Portions of the reef are white-sand beaches dotted with coconut trees, and rumor had it we might be able to catch a lobster if we snorkeled in the right spot! There are three mooring balls, and Joe wanted to tie up to a mooring ball. I was game, but wondered how we’d do it without a boat hook. (Our boat hook was somewhere in Guatemala, probably in Luby’s Boatworks repair yard.)
Joe said he was going to lasso the mooring ball. First, we headed for the largest mooring ball. My steerage and speed, I am sure, was right-on, but Joe missed the ball every time. After four passes, he told me to aim for the next, smaller mooring ball. I slowly steered toward the mooring ball and watched in bemusement as Joe lassoed and missed every pass! He turned to me and said, “You aren’t steering it right, let’s trade places.”
As we passed each other on the deck, I muttered, “Don’t let me hear you tell anyone else you were born in Texas. You lasso like a Hoosier.”
“Let’s see you do it,” he returned.
I leaned over the lifelines and remembered Tonie Hanson’s (Loop de Loop) process for lassoing that had been in an earlier issue of Telltales Magazine. I made my loop really big then switched it to my right hand, leaving plenty of extra rope for play . . . swung . . . and, bingo! I caught the mooring ball on the first try. Joe was excitedly issuing instructions as if I’d caught my first fish: “Reel it in a little bit – yes, that’s it. Don’t let it slip off!”
Back in the cockpit we high-fived and I went down below to get on a bathing suit. I knew that the finer points of tying up to a mooring ball would be easier if I did it in the water. I just didn’t quite know what I was supposed to do. I jumped overboard and as I floated around the ball, Joe explained that there would be another line with a loop on it and that I was to retrieve that line. Without thinking, I felt around in the water, grabbed a big-o slimy line and began pulling to the surface. As it slid through my fingers, I said, “Oh, yuck! It’s slimy!” Then I yelled “Ouch!” as something sharp scraped my hand.
I had latched on to a barnacle. Gingerly, I fed the rest of the line upwards until the slimy loop was above water, and it wasn’t just slimy. There were barnacles, yes, but there was also some kind of sub-creature gray blob with claws hooked on to the rope, and it was scary-looking. I held the rope squeamishly between two fingers as Joe explained how to thread our line through the loop to properly secure the mooring. Normally dyslexic when working with ropes and lines, I managed to execute the task quickly because I wanted to move away from whatever was growing on that rope!
I paddled around the boat a few times for fun, then rejoined Joe in the cockpit. Our boat was moored at 16°24.26N, 086°18.52W.
There’s free wifi to be had at Port Royal Bay, but you have to anchor closer to the large private home you will pass upon entering the harbor. You should also take care not to download or upload any large files except between the hours of 2-5 a.m., because you risk knocking out the system for 18 hours if you overload it. There’s a distinguished-looking, brown-roofed, three-level private home on the hill overlooking the anchorage, and next to it is a really cute set of shoreline cottages perched on stilts. The cottages are newish, have front porches complete with hammock, and are painted bright tropical hues. The wireless internet information is available by hailing Casa Gusto on VHF 72.
Our second day in Port Royal, we were approached by an officer in a motorboat who informed us that there was a $25 USD cruiser fee for “This side of the island.” Joe asked why, and the official said it was for protection. All smiles, Joe handed over 500 lempiras and the men in the boat posed for a picture. We were the second boat to have paid this fee in 2008, and we were a bit skeptical; Joe relayed the new information on the next day’s Northwest Caribbean Net (SSB 6.209) and was barraged with questions, like, “Did you get a receipt? What authority is on the receipt?” Another cruiser reported seeing the officials patrolling the waters of a nearby bay at night, so indeed, protection was being offered.
In some parts of Central America, if you reject “protection,” it might be perceived as inviting violation. Later, Joe said to me, “I figured if we didn’t pay it, we would definitely get a visit from the Dinghy Bandits!” A local visited our boat the following morning and said the patrol boat would take away our trash, too, but they never did. Since there is no cost for cruisers who enter-in or checkout of Honduras, and because French Harbor and Coxen’s Hole get the bulk of tourist dollars for the island of Roatan, it seemed a reasonable fee, after the initial shock wore off. Fees are regulated at Honduras’s Cayos Cochinos and also at Belize’s Lighthouse Reef, so cruisers’ fees may become the wave of the future, as more and more of us choose the cruising lifestyle.
Our last day at Port Royal, we took a dinghy safari and visited several coves on the Port Royal side of the island, including Old Port Royal. The name “Old Port Royal” is somewhat misleading, a local told us. He showed Joe a map of that portion of Rotan and explained Port Royal – not “Old” Port Royal – was the site of a British pirate fort and a place where there are over a dozen sunken ships from that era.
Joe and I found what was left of the pirate fort. The British pirates had a site atop several hills, where they built a fort on one, mounted a wheel of cannons on another and a gunhold on yet another hill, all facing the Caribbean. When the Spanish vessels were homebound, loaded with treasures and spices, they passed the pirates’ bay and the mischievous Brits looted and sunk the Spanish ships. When the Spaniards said, “Enough is enough,” they went in with a vengeance and destroyed and burned everything: the fort, boats, and as many pirates as they could catch.
As Joe and I dinghied around the fort, I looked out to sea and thought how perfect it was – the reef was almost hidden and it would appear, from the ocean, to be an easy entrance to the harbor. The pirates may have led the Spaniards on quite a chase, running them onto the reef, making for an easier plundering.
If I squinted, I thought I could see a square-rigged old wooden ship with 21 sails; perhaps one of Admiral Nelson’s fleet?
The next day we departed Port Royal for Guanaja, the last of the Bay Islands and our “jumping off” place to continue our passage south. It would be our last easy daysail for awhile; we planned to use the next full moon – January 22, 2008 – to assist us in a two-day passage to the Cayos Vivorillo (Vivario Cayes).
Next month: Rose of Sharon visits the third and last of Honduras’ Bay Islands, Guanaja, and then continues its passage toward Panama. Joe and Sharon Kratz are cruisers aboard their 35′ Westerly Corsair sailboat, Rose of Sharon. They have two daughters and five grandchildren (future crew).