Sunday, January 26, 2014

Are You Sure You're Having Fun?

Since our last post we have been asked this question by family and friends back home.
 "Are you sure you're having fun?"  
 We most certainly are. We enjoy being here and soaking up this cruising lifestyle. It is hard to go somewhere and learn new things if you cannot sever your ties from the old and sail into the new. Even if one never left the dock, boats still break down and parts fail. Were we still stateside we could perhaps be lured into the mindset that it may be easier to hire someone to fix the current problem rather than give it a whirl ourselves. But then we would miss out on a great education.

Heading back to French Harbor, Roatan from Cayos Cochinos this past Thursday. A gorgeous day but very calm and we motored for a couple of hours until the winds came up enough to sail.

Our misadventures and travails have just made us stronger.  As our cruising friend Chip says, "Cruising is really just fixing your boat in exotic places."  We can now fix anything, just about anywhere, in just about any conditions, without all the proper tools. As we visit with other cruisers we have learned we are not alone in adventure and misadventure stories. This common thread is a given; if you sail your boat you will need to fix something, at sometime, and it most likely will always be at a bad time. Key is, we all learn from each other;  what to do, what not to do, and what could be done in the future should such and such arise. There must be a diploma out there somewhere for the skills we have acquired, that we can frame and hang on the bulkhead. This blog could be viewed as the course syllabus and proof that we are sailing through the curriculum.

All that said, we have had good times, met great people and by days end are still happy to call Leap our home. She is a good strong boat and will carry us on to more adventures.

Happy Hour Palapa at Fantasy Island where cruisers meet to celebrate and commiserate

Brooksy Point Yacht Club where cruisers had a "tailgate" party and watched the football playoffs and will also gather to watch the Super Bowl.

Views around the marina.
View from Leap - Jack's Harbor View Grill (not visible) is off to the right, up the hill

Following four pictures are of the local village across the small bay from the marina

The Garden Path going up to the restaurant

Below are some of the critters that keep us entertained.

A Watusa - hops along like a rabbit. 
This big boy - about 4 feet long - joined us for Happy Hour  
He wants bananas....
and is waiting patiently.
Another iguana retired for the night.
Sleep is closing in

Our friend David joined us for a week. This photo was taken during our return to French Harbor from Cayos Cochinos this past Thursday.
David also took an underwater video with his iPhone during our snorkeling outing, of the lobsters in the Marine Preserve here in French Harbor.


The man solely responsible for the Marine Preserve and the Iguana Sanctuary is Sherman Arch - on the right with Charlie. He has taken us and our friend David on two outings in his truck, around different parts of the island. We will be sharing more adventures with Sherman and anticipate more stories to come.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Utila To Roatan, Roatan To Utila, Utila To Roatan And Then The Norther

How many times does it take to get to French Harbor, Roatan from Utila?

Apparently twice, at least for us. We crossed from Utila to Roatan on 12/21 and on our first night anchored in Coxen Hole which is near the west end of the island. We had some friends to drop off as they were meeting family for the holidays. The following day we headed on to French Harbor. We had a 4.5 hour sail, motor-sail, and then, just motoring as the winds were not exactly in our favor. We could see French Harbor and as we were setting up the course to line up with the opening in the reef our motor sputtered and died.  It has never done that before, and to do it now with a reef imminent, made it exceptionally disconcerting.
We raised sails very quickly - well of course we weren't dawdling -  and turned downwind, sailing away from the reef, and then decided what to do. 
While I was at the helm Charlie went below decks, dismantled the engine compartment, stood on his head and checked the two fuel filters and they seemed fine, but he changed them anyway and only had two scraped knuckles so far. Next step -  bleed the air out of the fuel injectors and start her up. That means Charlie is below decks with the injectors and I am sailing and hitting the starter.
Oh, one other thing; "Otto" the auto pilot decided to act up.  For those of you new to Otto's story. the previous Otto was struck by lightning and this Otto is brand new to Leap as of Oct 31st, his maiden voyage.  It was not expected he would go on strike so soon. Hence that is why one of us always has to be at the helm. Another go round with Alpha, the maker of the autopilot is in our future. 
Back to the engine; the good ole diesel that she is, she fired right up. All of this work took us a little over an hour. In the meantime, remember that 4.5 hour sail to French Harbor? It was only a 1.5 hour downwind run and we were back at the entrance to Coxen Hole, so again, we anchored in Coxen Hole for the night.

So far the two times we have been in Coxen Hole have not been calm. We could not get good holding ground with our anchor so Charlie came up with "plan B". Because the sea wall is not one that we can lay up along side, he says we can anchor through the seawall!  Meaning; run the anchor through a hole in the sea wall and hook it onto the rocks on the other side. This process meant unhooking the anchor from the chain, carry the anchor over the wall, feed the chain through the hole in the wall and re-attach to the anchor. It worked great, though a bit unnerving, knowing you can't easily retrieve it in a hurry if you need too. You are probably wondering why we just didn't throw the whole shebang over the wall - well that would have made the chain a navigation hazard. So by running it through the wall we got it as low and out of the way as possible. We also had to put out a stern anchor to keep us from swinging. (I know I should have taken a picture). We used this anchoring technique both times we were in Coxen Hole. 
We ended up spending a third night due to high winds in the wrong direction for getting into French Harbor.

Finally, on Christmas Eve day we had winds in our favor, barely, and we set out again from Coxen Hole to French Harbor. We had a good day sailing even though we had to tack - more on this later. We set a course favorable for day sailing but also meant to coddle the engine, saving her for the reef entrance.

There are cruisers and there are tackers. Unlike our racing days, when we were delighted to have a fabulous fast tack and round the mark ahead of the fleet, now as cruisers - tacking is work! We like to set the course, sail along with the help of "Otto" and show up at the  harbor entrance, start the engine, pilot through the reef and drop anchor, preferably in daylight.  For those of you still counting along with me; with the two harbor entrances at Coxen Hole added to the list we are at 6 of 13. Daylight is currently winning.

Back to our second attempt at French Harbor. We are sailing along and think we see the entrance to the harbor and drop the sails, start the engine and set our course for the reef entrance. Charlie slowly but surely edges our way towards the reef and then there is an itty bitty sound of sucking air, then calm. I say, "Did you hear that?!" and then sputter.......hack, hack, more air..... But, Charlie had decided that should this happen again he would throttle back and let the engine choke its way through what ever was giving it fits and we would motor on. But first, he would drain the fuel in the bell jar under the raycor fuel filter. So, again the engine compartment is opened, he is standing on his head, I am at the helm and the good ole girl is still chugging along.  It worked! Charlie is back at the helm although we are going veeerrryyy sloooowly. I am on navigation getting ready to talk us through the reef and the back up GPS decides to have a brain malfunction and literally drops Leap off the face of the planet. Oh, for pete's sake! or something....!!!*x*x*  
We like the tracking feature of the GPS. Charlie's analogy is, its like an electronic breadcrumb trail. The track not only shows us where we are and where we need to go but helps us get back over the reef when we want to depart the anchorage. Especially if you want to leave in the dark; more to that story later.

I tell Charlie, let's radio the marina and ask for a guide and he agrees. (Men sometimes will ask for directions if a women does the asking). I get on the VHF radio and hail the marina and several cruisers from the anchorage answer the hail as well. Two cruisers come out in their dinghies, heading to the reef and circle, one at each end of the reef opening and guide us through the reef and around the poorly marked channel into the anchorage.  We drop the anchor and it holds like a charm on the first drop. 
That is worth a celebration in and of itself, because anchoring in the cruising waters of the Western Caribbean has not gone well for us. It seems the bottom here is much different than what we are used to in Florida and the Bahamas. We have been known to drag, a most annoying occurrence as it always seems to happen in the night. late. like 3am. We also arrived in daylight... 6 of 14!
 French Harbor is a beautiful anchorage, we had a great anchor set, so it is definitely cervesa and rum punch time!

Entering French Harbor anchorage
Looking west across French Harbor from the beach. Leap is out by Little French Cay, the island you see on the left.
The view from the Roatan/ French Harbor Yacht Club. Little French Cay is the island on the right at the top.
When we are in the anchorage we are out by Little French Cay. When at the marina we are in the bay in the foreground

Our visitor at the cruisers happy hour held daily.

 We had a great time in French Harbor over the holidays. We took a stroll on the beach Christmas Eve day checking out the establishments and decided to enter one that looked festive hoping they might offer a Happy Hour. Upon entering we ran into a cruising couple we had met in Utila and the establishment, Fantasy Island, was setting up for a Christmas Eve potluck and White Elephant gift exchange. We were invited to stay even though we did not have anything with us.  We enjoyed an evening of good food and great company with lots of stories to take in from other cruisers' adventures and misadventures.

We sat at a table with a couple from England who had never participated in a white elephant gift exchange. They were told it should be something funny or something from your boat you want to pass along.
The group was set up to draw a number, then select a gift when your number came up at which point you could keep it or swap for a gift that had already been opened by a previous person. As the gifts were being opened; an assortment of wines, rum, candles, chocolates, as well as an odd ball assortment of boat parts, the gal from England kept shaking her head saying ... "but these are nice gifts. I thought they were supposed to be funny." When her gift was finally selected and opened she hid her face......the recipient was stunned and speechless........the gift was a piece of white foam rubber cut out in the shape of an elephant complete with having the legs,ear,eyes and trunk drawn on with a black felt tip marker. We  thought it was hilarious, she was mortified. The final recipient of the white elephant, as it was traded a few times, says it will be back another year probably modified in some way.

Christmas Day was another pot luck and  white elephant gift exchange hosted by Brooksy Point Yacht Club who roasted a pig. Again the whole group of cruisers got together for a good time with food, gifts and a great band and music into the night. This time we came prepared.

French Harbor is a Marine Park so the snorkeling here is pretty good. There is no spear fishing allowed anywhere on Roatan. Within the park on the inside of the reef we saw large lobsters with tails up to 9 inches long, assorted tropical fish and one very large moray eel.  Plus, one skulking, leering 4 to 5 ft barracuda that wanted to follow us; and they are just plain creepy when they do that!
 The grass beds have quite a few large conchs, sea urchins and we found a couple lobster molts as well.
When we get our camera back we are hoping to get some underwater pictures.

In between the holiday festivities and the snorkeling we had to figure out what was going on with the diesel and fuel issues. We wanted to pump out the diesel fuel in our tank and filter it, thinking we had purchased bad fuel in Mexico.
A fellow cruiser loaned us a fuel filter that takes out debris but is also osmotic, meaning it takes out water. (We are getting on of these too)  We also had to borrow enough fuel cans to hold the fuel we had. After all the fuel was pumped out and re-filtered we learned we had water in our fuel. We will replace the o-ring seal on the deck fitting fuel cap and see if that solves the problem.

New Years Eve and New Years Day brought more festivities. New Years Eve dinners, music,and fireworks. We opted for snorkeling and relaxing. We purchased lobster from a local fisherman, par-boiled it then finished it off on the grill and enjoyed watching the fireworks from Leap

Back to Utila
January 3rd we sailed back to Utila to pick up our parts and to everyone's surprise they were in. We had been cautioned not to get our hopes up as island time is not regular time. We spent the next day installing our refrigeration parts and the new GPS antenna.
The winds were high enough to cause the anchorage to be uncomfortable but not horrible. Too rough to put the dinghy down on Fri 1/3 but by Sat we could get the dinghy off the foredeck and launched but still too rough to get the outboard off the stern rail. By late afternoon on Sun 1/5 it was calm enough to put the outboard on the dinghy. We hopped in the dinghy and set out to visit a new arrival in the harbor then off to town to run errands. When we returned from town we again checked the weather.
There were rumors that a norther was on its way and all of the Bay Islands were going to be in its path. So we  had set anchor tucked into the far northeast corner of Utila's East Harbor hoping to stay out of the high wind and waves, as we did not want a repeat of the five day ride we took during the Thanksgiving norther which turned into a southwester. Utila only has the one harbor, but Roatan has several harbors being the largest in the chain with several  holes to hunker down in. We were keeping an eye on the weather info flowing in about the norther; debating whether to stay in Utila or head back to French Harbor. The evening weather model came up predicting the norther would hit the Bay Islands and bad news for Utila,  it would swing to the dreaded southwest direction. Enough said. We made tracks to leave Utila. We weren't going through that again. So not more than two hours after we had put the outboard on the dinghy we were hoisting it back up onto the stern rail and winching the dinghy back onto the foredeck and tying her down.

We needed to be in French Harbor before noon on Mon 1/6 because the winds were predicted to shift making it hard to enter French Harbor.We made plans to get up at 5am and set sail by 6am. The dread of the coming storm got us up at 3am and anchor up at 4am. We were going to be departing an anchorage, through a reef,.... in the dark. We think this will be an easy number to keep track of.

Utila's eastern shore in East Harbor with the mountains on the mainland in the background. The clouds from the waterline up the face of the mountains and the billowing clouds behind the mountains created a bizarre panorama.This picture was taken Sunday morning Jan 5th.

Sunday evenings moon rise. The anchorage is calm.

Back to Roatan
 We slept fitfully Monday evening afraid we would miss getting started on time. We would only be able to cross the reef if the new GPS worked flawlessly. If you recall our story on entering Utila for the first time, which was at night, you will remember how poorly marked it is for night time navigation. Departing would be easier as we knew the entrance better, but night vision can be deceptive. Charlie fired up the diesel, I fired up the navigation computer and GPS, Charlie hoisted anchor and we headed out. I mentioned previously the reason we like the GPS tracking is it leaves an electronic trail of breadcrumbs. We have been in and out of Utila several times now and we have tracks to follow. I relay to Charlie the directions to weave our way through the reef motoring very slowly, through the dark, on a glass calm sea. Cleared the reef, let out a sigh of relief and set a course for French Harbor.  We do not really want to make a habit of departing in the dark but we know we can do it if the navigation program and GPS work and if weather conditions force us too.

The next two pictures were taken seconds apart. The clouds are radically different from one side of Leap to the other.
Dawn with Roatan in the distance off the port bow.
Sunrise off  starboard
We motored all the way to French Harbor. There was not enough wind to sail. The seas were calm with long undulating rollers and we were making great time. We would be in French Harbor before the noon wind change.
We reserved a slip at the Roatan/French Harbor Yacht Club hoping we will be able to ride out the norther with some protection. We are tucked in behind the town in a bay. We cannot see the anchorage from the dock but we can see it from the marina restaurant and bar on top of the hill.

The Norther
The winds started Monday night with gusts clocked at 42 knots by a fellow cruiser in the anchorage. We put out double the dock lines and because the marina is new and doesn't have stern pilings in place - note in picture below; Leap looks to long for her slip -  we have an anchor line cleated off on Leap's stern running to the white piling in the next slip over. The wind got so strong inside the bay we were up several times in the night checking lines and  eventually taking down our bimini - the shade structure over the cockpit.

Leap in her slip at Roatan Yacht Club on Tues Jan 7 , 2014
We had a restless but safe night. Got up, made coffee, and stuck our heads out to see what the day would bring. Charlie is about halfway out the companionway into the cockpit with his coffee when he turns to me and says, "I think that boat is going to break loose!"   I look out and sure enough it looks like trouble and I say, "We better tell someone!"  and Charlie takes off heading for the dock master.
The boat in question, is not in the marina but tied off on pilings on the next property east. Leap's stern is directly downwind from the about-to-be-loose boats' stern, a 60 ft steel hull double decker power boat with a 40ft sailboat rafted off on its starboard side. Charlie rounds up the dockmaster and is calling out to me to gather anything I want to prepare to get off the boat.
I run around shoving all the electronics and our important paperwork into a dry bag. Charlie tells me if the boats break loose we will abandon Leap because we cannot fend off the two boats and Leap will only sink a couple of feet before she hits bottom in her slip and we will be able to wash everything else that I leave behind.   Well for crying out loud -  that is no way to start a day!

Well apparently that is how we are going to start our day because the two boats broke loose and started heading our way. Seconds before the picture below was taken the boats had been tied off to the pilings on the right of the gray shed.

They are loose and turning and we do not see anyone aboard either boat. nor on the dock.

The two are now heading for Leaps' stern and we still see no sign of anyone on board. In the next couple of minutes someone from somewhere, gets a line on the steel hull powerboat and the two boats start a waltz, spinning again ending up in the bay off our port stern.

A fellow in a small runabout with an outboard motor and another fellow paddling a cayuga , a wooden canoe type boat, were maneuvering the two big boats. A third fellow on the bow of the  60ft power boat was pulling on the line that was re-attached to one of the pilings. They then ran out a second line and the two boats hung there turning in the wind all day.
Now I will have a cup of coffee; and Charlie came in from the dock and wants a refill. The wind was blowing so hard it blew the coffee right out of his cup.

You are probably wondering why we just didn't move Leap out of the way. The winds were high gusting to 30 knots pushing Leap on the dock. We were most secure right where we were. To leave the dock and end up in the bay with two free-spinning boats was not an option. Plus, there is no telling if we could have gotten back into the dock where we were most protected from this norther.

At the end of the day the two boats are back on their pilings at the dock.

The wind is picking up and is predicted to be high most of Wed 1/8. Our vigilant watches will continue.

UPDATE: Cruisers this morning are reporting in on the VHF Cruisers Net that winds were gusting to 54 knots here in French Harbor during the night. The winds have clocked around to the west but remain high. Boats in the anchorage are dragging anchor, it is very rough and we are delighted to be tied to the dock at the Roatan Yacht Club.