by Thane Gilliam, sailing vessel Heart of Gold
I heard about them long before I saw them. Stories were relayed to us in our little town of Port Aransas, Texas about a band on the Rio Dulce River in Guatemala that is made up exclusively of folks that cruise and live aboard their sailboats. They called themselves “The Sweet River Band”. Images of tropical nights and boat music occupied our thoughts. One of our best friends, Hal on the sailboat Griffin, sailed back from an extended stay at Mario’s Marina there in Guatemala and told us all about this cruiser’s band. He even co-wrote a song with Linda that has become one of their favorites, “Leaving my Keys for the Cays”.
We had spent a hurricane season at Mario’s Marina the year before and couldn’t wait to get back to see this cruiser’s band that we had heard so much about.
We sailed out of Key West in March of 2005 after riding out tropical storms at sea and hurricanes on the hook, but that’s an entirely different story for another article. Needless to say, we couldn’t wait to get out of “civilization” and back to warm tropical breezes, clear water and lobster for the taking.
We spent a few lazy weeks in Isla Mujeres, Mexico just visiting with friends, drinking beer at the beach and eating excellent food cooked by our good buddies Kim and Carl on their sailboat Querencia. While in Isla we continued to hear about The Sweet River Band down in Guatemala.
We continued sailing south down the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico to Belize where we spent time on Caye Caulker and in Placencia just snorkeling, eating and taking it easy. Along the way we met so many wonderful people, most of them heading the same place as we were, the Rio Dulce River to ride out hurricane season.
Each night was spent in the company of these friends where we would talk about our adventures at sea and in port. We would discuss our plans for hurricane season and where we planned to spend it. We found that many sailors planned to leave their boat at Mario’s and most had heard of what was fast becoming the talk of the Northwest Caribbean, The Sweet River Band.
We sailed out of Belize in the company of our newfound friends Lyla and Aaron on a beautiful 50-foot Gulfstar ketch called “Blow Me Away." We checked into Livingston, Guatemala at the mouth of the Rio Dulce and headed up river to Mario’s Marina.
We arrived that afternoon at Mario’s and were surprised by all the familiar faces waiting for us at the docks. All of you that have not yet spent time cruising will be surprised by how many friends you leave behind at one port and run into again at another.
Though we were very happy to see old friends, the best surprise was the entertainment for the night. The restaurant/bar at Mario’s Marina is the Cayuco Club and headlining that night was the band I had been hearing about all the way from Texas, through Florida, across the gulf to Mexico and all through Belize. The Sweet River Band was playing.
The Sweet River Band is a three-piece combo. It’s membership has changed now and then but that night it was made up of Mike off the sailing vessel Haliai on bass, Steve of the sailboat Foreplay on lead guitar and Linda of the sailing vessel Carina on keyboard and supplying lead vocals.
The night and the music were everything whe expected and more. Linda did a beautiful cover of Blue Bayou; a Linda Ronstadt hit and followed with a Van Morrison song that had the place rocking. I can’t tell you every song they played, there was too much rum and too much fun, but I can tell you it was a night I will never forget.
We have spent our entire hurricane season here in the Rio Dulce and have not regretted a minute of it. The days are spent doing boat chores, traveling inland to visit the amazing sights of Guatemala or just lazing but the nights are reserved for music and The Sweet River Band.
Sadly, the season is over and the boats are heading out of the river and to other ports. Many are heading to the Bay Islands of Honduras and on to points south like Panama and Columbia. Many will go west through the Panama Canal and on to adventures in the Pacific Ocean. Some, such as ourselves will head north again and return to the land of plenty, the USA, to earn money to continue our adventures at sea.
As the boats leave and head to their next port of call, so do the members of The Sweet River Band. Linda and her husband Al will be heading south to Panama. Steve on Foreplay has already left by land to the great State of Texas, returning who knows when. The only member planning to stay behind at Mario’s Marina is Mike of the sailing vessel Haliai. He alone will remain, maybe to form another incarnation of this famous cruisers band, maybe not.Whether there will ever be another Sweet River Band is yet to be seen but those at Mario will always remember that hurricane season’s as a special musical experience. Thank you Mike, Linda and Steve for all those memorable nights.