Sailing From Honduras to Guatemala
Trip Start Apr 17, 2001
235Trip End Ongoing
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Three days earlier we had set sail for Guatemala from the Bay Islands of Honduras aboard the thirty-foot catamaran, Ocean Winds III. It was to be an idyllic voyage - a pleasure trip.
At the helm was owner/operator, Captain Pete. His first mate was a Maya gal named Lupe. Gunter, a Scuba diving instructor and Sandra from Germany, Gunnar, a traveler from Denmark and Three Rivers Caroline, a clothing designer from Quebec accompanied Ellen and I. Captain Pete, a veteran of the seas, lives on Guatemala's Dulce River. He sails for the love of it. Lupe, a landlubber at heart, was to spend most of her time in the washroom or on the couch - a victim of motion sickness. The passengers neophytes - all.
A couple of hours before dusk, a still groggy Captain Pete expertly maneuvered our craft past jagged rocky outcrops. We anchored in a sheltered little cove near Punta Sol, Honduras. Calm, clear water surrounded the catamaran. A gentle breeze shifted the palm fronds on the nearby jungle beach. After bathing in the sea, we settled in for a dinner of fish stew, prepared by Lupe. While we ate, Howler monkeys screeched at us from the jungle as if to say, "stay away, you're not wanted here". We slept under a full moon lulled by the sounds of the jungle at night.
We set sail at sunrise the following morning for the Sapodilla Cays on the coral reef of Belize. Fluffy cumulus clouds sat high in the sky, as a strong wind kept our sails full. The sight of flying fish skipping across the surface reminded me of skipping stones on the old millpond as a kid. When we reached the reef, I looked into the crystal clear water and said "wow". It was as if we had traveled to an aquarium filled with tropical fish. We snorkeled with Parrotfish, sea turtles, grouper and a moray eel. When our skin developed the texture of lightly stewed prunes, we climbed back into the boat. How calm the waters were on this beautiful day. We ate like sailors, drunken and otherwise, then slept under the light of a trillion stars.
Sunrise saw us sailing once again, westward now, into a light breeze with the sun warming our backs. Ellen, Caroline and Sandra went to the front of the boat to read, lie on the deck and catch some rays. The men all stayed at the back whilst Captain Pete gave a lesson on sailing terms. He taught us the meaning of words like port, stern and bow. Late in the afternoon Gunter cast a line off the back of the boat and caught a couple of nice mackerel. An hour or so later, we dropped anchor for the night at a depth of eight meters, about two kilometers off shore. The mackerel fit perfectly on the barbecue and we had another great dinner. With our bellies full, we hit the sack around 9:00 PM. Two hours later, I awoke to an amazing light show in the distant sky. It was like a fluorescent light tube that has burned out, then continues to flicker annoyingly. I sat alone on deck in the quiet as everyone slept - watching the display. After a time, I felt myself nodding off, so I climbed back into bed.
The storm hit around midnight. It came with little warning. Strong westerly winds and four-foot waves pounded our boat. Intense rain, ear shattering thunder and forked lightning surrounded us. Bouncing against the walls I stumbled to the deck. Captain Pete was already there taking down the sails as he yelled, "keep her facing the wind Lupe". Lupe, who'd forgotten her stomach flutters in the crisis, was at the helm doing just that. We were being hit by what Captain Pete called vertical waves. These waves didn't roll. They didn't lift you up and drop you down. These waves slammed into the boat. They seemed to cause your very insides to quake - your teeth to jar. With each slamming wave I was afraid that the boat would break in two. I thought about pre-trip just-in-case-there's-a-storm training. There'd been none. It was late March and there hadn't been a drop of rain or dark cloud in the sky for months. Ellen, clinging to a bed railing in our claustrophobic tiny berth, feared that our Last Supper had been barbecued mackerel. Three Rivers Caroline sat pensively, thinking about her beloved Montreal Canadiens. Gunnar stood on deck and reminiscent of a tall bald headed guy from a horror movie, roared like a bleeding maniac with every thunderclap. In seemingly true "heads buried in the sand" fashion Sandra and Gunter stayed in their berth. With Gilliganian fear, I thought about Ginger, the Professor and Maryanne - that we may have a better chance if the boat was to break free of its anchor and wreck somewhere, anywhere where there might be land. Captain Pete told me that our biggest worry was not the vertical waves, but of lightning hitting the mast. What the hell did that mean? The Captain was too busy keeping his boat afloat to answer my questions, so I kept them to myself. If lightening hit, would it break the mast and topple us over? Would it strike the mast, travel its length and drill a hole through the bottom of the boat? Maybe it would just electrocute us, saving us from the horror of drowning. I didn't know - I didn't want to know. Into the danger meter of Captain Pete's eyes I stared, trying to get a reading of what was to come. The hardened old salt gave not a hint. I tried to survey the situation, as I clung to a wooden railing. The ever-flashing sky was our only light source. Again, my brain began working at a fever pitch. If we sink, maybe we can swim to shore? Which way is the shore? Where the hell are the lifejackets? Captain Pete, steely eyed and silent continued to keep us facing the wind. I stood with both hands on the doorway rail leading from the cabin to the deck. Even here, firmly planted, I would get thrown against one side of the doorway or the other when an unexpected vertical wave hit us. For the next two-and-a-half hours the thunderous rains continued. The only human-like sounds came from Gunnar. He maintained his roar with every boom. Did he think he was the God of Thunder or was he trying to compete with each thunderclap? Maybe he was just scared witless like the rest of us. At about 3:00AM, before I myself recognized any change in the weather, I noticed Captain Pete's expression change ever so slightly. By now I could read the Captain's face like an astronomer reads the stars. His stony countenance was showing the first hint of a smile. The rains soon let up. The winds no longer howled. The vertical waves stopped slamming the boat. And finally, my heart stopped slamming against my rib cage. Without a word, those who were topside melted from exhaustion, into the softest spot within reach. I managed to hobble the ten feet or so back to our berth. Ellen, who out of sheer terror had sequestered herself there during the entire ordeal, was already sleeping. I quickly joined her. At fifteen minutes before five o'clock I awoke to the sound of the anchor chain being hauled on board. Through the porthole, light was beginning to penetrate what had seemed an eternal darkness. To the east a wonderful half ball of sun was climbing out of the sea. Unaware of my bruises and aching muscles I stared at it thankfully - until it hurt my eyes. I could hear the boat engine running. We were turning away from the sun, pointing westward now. A pensive, silent group, we motored slowly for the Guatemalan coast. Captain Pete - a hero to all.