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Voyage of the Sailing Vessel Retriever

Join the crew of s/v Retriever as they leave Florida and sail to Cuba, Belize, Honduras & Guatemala. 

Casey aboard sailing vessel Retriever. © Lori Shea 2007by Lori Shea, sailing vessel Retriever & Guatemala Medical Travel

Subject: Voyage to Mexico... Part one
Date: Mon, 09 Jan 2006, 21:05:01 -0500

The funny thing is... here we are 3 weeks later and hundreds of miles away in Honduras.  It went like this...

We set out down the Intra-coastal Waterway in Florida in early December.  Cold but pleasant, slow going.  Much of the waterway is pristine protected wildlife preserve; more of it is concrete seawalls beside high-rise condos; and mostly it's a garish display of ostentatious houses the size of concert halls!  By Miami, we had had enough and finally headed for open ocean around Key Biscayne.

Just about 48 hours later we arrived at Marina Hemingway in Havana.  Not at all like our visit 4 years ago - 20% capacity at the docks, fewer services, higher prices, disgruntled visitors.  We can't spend USD$ anymore - they are changed to Cuban pesos minus 20% to the government.  Tourism is Cuba's largest industry and this is not a good idea. 

Havana Street Performers. © Lori Shea 2007But, we had a great time New Year's Eve - dinner in the home of our new friends in a little fishing village near the marina.  All doors and windows open, blaring music, hundreds of people in the street and visiting, singing and laughing.  Just the sort of thing that would have the cops come running in America.  What fun!

After Havana, we had the proverbial "smooth sailing" through the Cayos to the west end of the island.  Casey dragged a line and hook behind us a quickly caught a large dorado.  He took off the head with a saw, cut a few steaks and 2 nice filets.  I had them poaching in lemon butter in 5 minutes.  Wow - "You Tarzan, me Jane".  We planned on a calm trip only 140 miles over to Mexico, but then a nasty cold front blew in from the North and plans changed....

Subject: Voyage to Mexico... Part 2
Date: Mon, 16 Jan 2006 15:51:57 -0500

Los Cayos of NW Cuba were sure lovely... deserted and pristine.  We thought we were miles from anyone, but some local fisherman came alongside in their ancient homespun wooden boat to sell us some lobster and fish, but Casey had just swum out to spear some grouper for dinner.  The weather was clear and warm, with just a light breeze, and we set out for a leisurely trip across the Yucatan Peninsula toward Isla Mujeres with plenty of time for good books, good food and sunbathing on the way. Casey at Retriever's nav station.   © Lori Shea 2007

Around noon on Wednesday the dark clouds approached, so we cleared the decks, stowed and lashed down everything possible and prepared to get a little wet.  Before long, the winds were gusting to 40 knots, we were heaving over 20 foot waves and the "mal de mer" weight loss plan was in full swing.  Have you ever tried heating a pan of soup while standing in a roller coaster?  Believe me, it's not worth it.  Plates skid off the counter instantly, hot coffee is a frightening prospect and don't even think about using knives!

Maybe I'll just lie here quietly in my bunk and read for a while.  Not so much for seasickness (I have good drugs for that) but mainly to avoid bruising... Wait!  Not so fast!  It's my turn to stand watch in the middle of the night.  So I grab a flashlight and sit in a puddle.  I'm avoiding waves from below and rain from above while babysitting the Autopilot and watching for cargo ships who are aiming to crash into us!  Why do I put up with this??  Oh yeah, right...

I can deal with being blown a little off course for a few days, but can't we find a safe harbor in Southern Yucatan?  "Not in this howling wind."... Maybe a sheltered bay in Belize? "Crazy to navigate those coral reefs"...  A calm anchorage in Guatemala?  "Don't bet on it."

By daybreak on Sunday, four days later, the storm had passed and the sun rose over a lushly forested mountainous island and a sapphire sea.  Then, the most glorious rainbow appeared.  Really, quite stunning... intense colors in distinct margins forming a magnificent arch from far above us, reaching out beyond the horizon in opposite directions.  The island of Roatan, Honduras sure looked heavenly to me.

Subject: Voyage, part 3
Date: Mon, 23 Jan 2006 16:35:44 -0500 Coxen Hole in Honduras.   © Lori Shea 2007

Sailing past Roatan, we saw verdant mountain ranges, old banana plantations, a few serene waterfront villages and the ever-expanding "private gated waterfront communities" (so that you don't have to actually meet local residents except when the come to cook and clean for you.)

Closer to Coxen Hole, we anchored near town in front of brightly painted wooden houses on stilts, each with a rickety dock and colorful run-about tied alongside.  Nino and his son paddled out in their dug-out canoe to greet us.  We became fast friends and saw them often during our stay. We took only one day for repairs and cleaning and general recovery, and went to search out the Port Captain and Immigration in the morning.

Things move slowly here.  At 10am the office was still locked, so we found an official-looking elderly fellow across the way that was willing to help.  We soon realized he was quite retarded and his "official" uniform emblem proudly proclaimed: "Girl Scouts of America".

The first order of business was to find a phone and try to reach our only contact here on Roatan.  Alana Cooper is descended from the English boat builders and pirates who first settled the island.  She is an old friend of Margaret's and chases squatters off her farmland with a shotgun!  We sailed up to Oak Ridge to meet her and thoroughly enjoyed an amazing tour.  We talked for hours about the history and politics of the island.  Then she showed us her farm and animals, the hilltop "tree" house in town, many natural wonders, and the best grocery store with gourmet produce.  We're grateful to have such good-humored and informative guide.

Lunch aboard Retriever.   © Lori Shea 2007We sure are eating well:  fresh picked tropical fruits, chickens and eggs that are local and natural, and fresh fish and lobster when we're in the right spot.  Besides, we have Argentine wines and Jamaican rum duty free, and plenty of time to make ornate Mediterranean salads, rich curry sauces, picante marinades and crepes Suzette for dessert.

We really are trending toward Guatemala in an effort to visit Mexico.  But with generally good sailing, hot sunny days, cooling afternoon showers, and regular easterly trade winds, there are just too many wonderful things to do on the way.  We're on the island of Utila now, and Casey says the new moon tide next week will allow us the depth we need to enter the Rio Dulce.

Subject: Voyage... Part 4
Date: Wed, 08 Mar 2006 14:02:13 -0500

In Australia they call it "Going troppo".  Not exactly "lazy" in a bad way, more like so immersed in serene tropical warmth that the little things just don't seem to matter anymore.  And if you're really far gone, the big things too.

It's over a month since my last notes from Honduras.  We haven't gone troppo here, but we are happily keeping busy with the real estate search in the Rio Dulce.  I also went to Mexico and to Florida recently to catch up on some business, and I feel like I was banished to the northern land of barren landscapes, cold, traffic and tension.  Then, recently released back into my natural habitat here in the jungle, by the river with the Maya people.  (Are you sure I was born a white girl from Connecticut?)

Livingston, Guatemala.   © Lori Shea 2007At the mouth of the Rio Dulce (Guatemala), Livingston is an old Garifuna settlement.  In 1780 the escaped Africans from 2 slave ship wrecks came ashore in Honduras to live peacefully with the indigenous people.  Soon after, they were banished by the English to come here to the Rio.  Many villages surrounding the river were settled by the Mayans escaping the fear and violence of a series of dictatorships which have scarred Guatemalan history for the past 25 years.  The most recent freedom-seeking pioneers are coming here now from North America and Europe, also fleeing criminally corrupt leaders and an illogical lifestyle based on oppressive restrictions.

From the NW Caribbean, we pass the Rio Dulce "Gorge" with cliffs and dense rainforest soaring to 300 feet on both sides.  The palms, vines and mahogany trees are of the deepest hues of primordial green from which all life began.  I feel they're providing about 5 times our usual oxygen dosage.  Dozens of tropical birds perch on branches which reach far beyond their terrestrial bounds and bow to the profundity of the river.  Local fishermen, some as young as 6, throw circular fishnets from their dug-out canoes, called "cayucos", and all the family is adept at paddling throughout the river.  Virtually all the homes and businesses here have a dock and a launch or skiff to welcome guests and carry out everyday errands. 

After 5 miles, the Rio opens wider to form the "Golfete" (little gulf), and narrows again by the town of Fronteras and the 16th century fort of San Felipe.  The fort was built by the Spanish to repel the French and English pirates from the galleons safely moored in Lago Izabal (about 12 by 30 miles across).

View from El Castillo.   © Lori Shea 2007 The Rio Dulce is an entirely aquatic community with 8 marinas, marine supply stores, markets, water taxis and restaurants to make us and hundreds of other global travelers feel right at home.  Also known as "Yachtie Heaven".

Fairly soon, we will most likely invest in the Rio.  We'll start building a new home and business and have to deal with Guatemalan government bureaucracy and all the surrounding international requirements (headaches).  Now that's what I call a challenging adventure!

Subject:  Voyage #5 ... final
Date: Wed, 29 Mar 2006 22:21:35

Just try to imagine yourself spending a few months aboard Retriever with your "preferred captain".  (Casey objected to my original unseaman-like appellation).  Our living space is about the size of a small bedroom or large closet.  This is where we cook and eat, bathe and dress, work and study, read and sleep.  Moreover, we share this space with a Yanmar diesel engine, big tanks for water and fuel, a woodworking shop, 3 months of provisions, plus assorted anchors, sail bags and hardware.  It's a happy, efficient cocoon with spectacular water views.

In the past, living aboard has been compared to both jail and camping.  But in jail you can still get a hot shower and if the camping is too unbearable you can always walk to the road and hitch-hike to a motel.  Not so in the glamorous world of yachting!  Casey prides himself in sailing by the traditional methods of the mariners of yore.  To me, it means that showers, more likely "birdbaths", and laundry days start with a kettle on the stove.  And on those days when the kettle jumps off the stove and crashing waves actively seek out the companionway hatch and aim for our bed, well, sleeping, eating and washing simply don't happen until the weather settles.

But, when you sit on the beach and gaze toward the ocean, this is where you dream about being.  I'm grateful every day to experience a sensation of absolute freedom and serenity that most people can't even imagine.  Our destinations depend mostly on the weather forecast and nautical charts, but we also take into account recommendations regarding the best fishing and diving, natural scenery or fun-loving little towns.  The need for internet service and beer also factors in heavily.

Just like any sort of traveling, itís the people that make these anchorages so intriguing.  We have met other solo circumnavigators, wooden boat builders and world-class designers who keep Casey in his element (and forgetting my name) for days on end.  Freedom seekers all, we see old hippies diggin' the groovy lifestyle, and old salts just doing what they do best.  Thankfully, the more frighteningly inexperienced ones never get past the Gulf of Mexico.  In this part of the world though, the majority of cruisers are retired couples from the US and Canada, grateful to be rid of the kids and jobs and wishing they had done this 25 years earlier.  Not overly fond of off-shore hazards, they enjoy the marina social scene like pot-luck dinners and swap meets.  As a single-hander, Casey's favorite pot luck contribution was a huge appetite and a pot of chili with Oreos crumbled on top. (I think it's a texture thing...)

By virtue of overcoming the primitive culinary situation, I'm a highly-respected crew member.  But from my first sailing voyage at 12 to this week, so many years later, in Belize, I still don't feel like a qualified deck-hand.  However, every day adds to my depth of experience.  Usually it's enough to keep up conversation, maybe enough to help another sailor sometime and hopefully enough to save our lives when required.....  But please, don't ever test me on that last one. Tabacco Caye, Belize.  © Lori Shea 2007

We've been cruising Belize for a few weeks now.  It's quite lovely with the requisite jewel-toned seas, mangrove cays and dreamy palm-studded islets with surrounding reefs.  Problem is, "She's blowin' a-gale!"  Twenty knots and gusting higher all week -- Makes for difficult passages and no access ashore, besides straining anchor lines, rigging and normally placid travel plans.  Soon Retriever will be safely tucked into the Rio Dulce while we return to America for a couple months to take care of business and even go to, um!?!

Thanks for joining us... L&C

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