I met Bob and Barb Unanski in Key West in late January, 2004. We traveled for 3 months aboard the Freya, a 43 foot Taswell cutter, until I left the boat in San Andres, Columbia in early May. Along the way,we had some very interesting anchoring situations happen, including dragging and running aground. We also met John Moore, the Montana sailor from Florida who is still in Guatemala, who was just starting out as a single hander and Eddy, another single hander from Belgium still in the Venezuelan Islands.
At Key West, we waited on the next cold front by watching the Super Bowl, eating more than my share of raw oysters, and drinking a few beers...of course. We stayed in the marina and right out from the Half Shell Raw Bar. A year earlier, the Freya encountered 40 knot plus winds, drug anchor, and slammed into another boat causing major damage, so Bob decided to stay in the marina. The anchorage at Key West is unprotected from north winds. Being near to Duval Street, there was plenty to do the week we stayed there.
We stayed 3 days at Fort Jefferson. It's a very protected anchorage with the Fort and the adjacent bird island becoming one island during a storm a few years ago. When leaving, we "took a left turn one channel marker too soon" as the Captain described it and ran hard aground. We took the spare anchor out into deep water and managed to pull the Freya out with the windlass. Thanks for a strong windlass. All in all, we lost only about 5 hours.
Next we sailed to Isla Mujeres, a 55 hour passage, where we stayed over 3 weeks. A very delightful island off the shore of Cancun(smaller, not as many people) with a good anchorage but a soft bottom which is dangerous in a northeast wind, as we found out. We dragged anchor the first night when the wind turned 180 degrees. Afterwards we set a very solidly anchor, but did watch 5 or 6 boats lost anchor one day when the wind was blowing 30-35 knots right into the anchorage.
John arrived in his vessel 2 days later. He had become somewhat sleepy after about 50 hours and decided to go over the reef. I'm sure it was a horrible experience at the time, being stuck on the reef for a couple of hours. But if you meet John, you must make him tell you the whole story. It involves making life decisions in the dinghy after leaving his boat, going back, freeing his boat, finally anchoring in about 5 foot of otherwise safe water, meeting the Mexican Coast Guard who show him out of the reef and point him towards Isla Myjeres.
There are some really good nightlife and restaurants here. Eddy(from Belgium) and I did have some fun nights. And visits to Puerto Morelo, Bahia de la Ascension, and Xcalak, our last port in the Mexican Yucatan. I spent that last day consuming vast amounts of alcohol with the Port Commander and Immigration Officer at more than a few bars...lol. It seems the Port Commander was having personal family problems(his wife caught him with a young lady) and the Immigration Officer had obviously decided he needed a few drinks to make him feel better. They welcomed me along also, so it was quite a day. I was personally transported and escorted back to the boat by the Immigration Officer, and during this we wrecked his boat trailor...missed the ramp backing in....way too much beer.....What a way to leave a country!!
Belize was nice, great water to snorkel in. San Pedro was quite touristy but nice. Caye Caulker was a bit quaint and not as crowded. We spent a few days snorkeling at Turnefee Islands and Lighthouse Reef. Placentia was my favorite. Small, out of the way, but lots of backpackers and very friendly local people. We spent a couple of days on the south end of the barrier reef, more great snorkeling, before entering the Rio Dulce in Guatemala.
There is a wide sand bar at the entrance to Rio Dulce; boats with a draft of over 5 ft must enter at high tide, so we anchored just outside and went in the next morning. It was a good try, but we ended up being towed over the bar. So much for that bar having a channel.......lol. Afterwards, thoughe, we had a nice day in Livingston and a great dinner at La Marina. The next day we motored up the Rio Dulce, through a canyon surrounded by high jungle, navigated the shallow Lake Izabal, and finally arrived at Tortugal Marina, near Fronteras. It's Easter now, and the place is full of kids from Guatemala City and backpackers from around the world, partying, exploring, bungy jumping off the bridge. We stayed there 2 weeks, playing "Are You Maffia?" many, many times.
Leaving the Rio Dulce(we made it over the bar without being towed this time), we headed for Utila, one of the Honduran Bay Islands. While we were only there shortly, I fell in love with it. So much that the next year I came back and spent a month diving. Great diving, great PADI certifications, great people from all over the world..... a fantastic experience.See my separate page on Utila for more info.
Roatan offered several unusual things to do. Going through the reef on the west end was one. The opening was about 50 feet wide. But the anchorage was great once inside. We decided to see Roatan by land. There is great diving and snorkeling here also. Plus more amenities that the "American Traveler" is used too, ie., resorts. A day was spent going to the east end, a boat ride through the mangroves, finally arriving at "Hole in the Wall", just one of the best places I know to while away an afternoon talking sailing and drinking beer.
After that came one of the most unique places I've been to......the island of Guanaja east of Roatan. One of the cays off Guanaja, also called Guanaja or Bonaca (or just simply, The Cay), is just off the main island, and contains most of the 5,000 or so people who live in Guanaja. The cay has been described as the Venice of Honduras because of the waterways that run through it. It is completely packed with people and their houses. There is no land visible when you approach it, just homes in the middle of nowhere on the water. And walking around the Cay is like walking through a maze. You're always on a cement sidewalk with the wall of a home on each side.
We had a great lunch one Sunday. The choices were boiled or fried chicken. Our local guide had to go to a nearby bar to get us some beer to drink. We also had to go to the same bar to get rid of the beer...(bathrooms...lol). So after lunch, we went to the bar. I met this quite unusual fisherman who supposedly owned 3 trawlers(which I believe). Anyway, we started doing Tequila shots, one shot led to another, one bar led to another, during which time we got to know each other.(This seems to happen a lot while drinking Tequila). Anyway, by the time I'd left, he told me he had spent 8 years in jail for killing a guy(over a girl), and he hinted at the possibility of me making a lot of money bringing some undisclosed merchandise back to the USA. Hmmmmm, time to leave.
The final destination was just around the corner. They call it Cabo Gracias a Dios("Cape Thanks to God" ) named by Christopher Columbus who finally got around it after about 30 days of trying. You are normally sailing right into the wind and it can be quite rough. We encountered 10-12 foot washing machine waves. I did manage to catch a very nice Wahoo right at daybreak one morning.
Rounding the cape, the sailing becomes quite good, but we quit our original destination, Providence, and turned to San Andres to be on a better tack. Arriving in the middle of the night, we anchored in a precarious place behind a reef with 7-10 waves coming into us all night. So much for sleeping, I didn't want to sleep anyway. The captain's wife had some words during anchoring. I seem to remember "asshole" and "bitch"......lol.
Early the next morning, we had to go around the island to get to the harbor entrance. Leaving the reef, we encountered some of the tallest waves I've been in. I'm not sure how big but definitely over 20 and probably not 30. Anyway, BIG! We made our way around San Andres without incidence though and safely entered the harbor. San Andres belongs to Columbia and is used a lot as an island vacation getaway by the Columbians on the mainland. It is developed with some resorts and tourists, but meals are unbelievably inexpensive. You can get dinner with two filet mignon steaks for about $7.00 US.
But alas, I left the next day, flying and staying overnight in Bogota, then to Chicago via Atlanta the next day. And home.