Tuesday, August 26, 2008

3 Countries In 7 Days - Part 2

Mima Has Landed-Three Countries In Seven Days

Part 2.

We were enjoying ourselves so much we decided to stay another day and do some more fishing and snorkeling. Little did we know that tomorrow Marshall would be robbed of one of his dearest possessions? To be continued……

The following day started like any other I guess. That is if you are fortunate enough to find yourself sitting on a sailboat in the middle of paradise. The sunrise brushed the sky with a plethora of oranges and reds beyond description, and as the sun made its daily journey into the sky the water turned from black to blue and then settled on a shade of turquoise only the sun and sea seem capable of creating.

Marshall awoke and his feet had barely touched the floor when he began pleading to call Greg and go fishing again. I informed Marshall that Greg watches more sunsets than sunrises, so after a quick breakfast we headed out for a little fishing on our own. We had experienced good fortune yesterday trolling a couple of lures around the cuts between the reefs and so we rigged up and began to wind our way in and out of the reef. If you have ever taken kids fishing in the ocean you know what the conversation consisted of. "Dad what if we catch a Marlin that weighs 200 pounds or one of those giant Tarpon we swam with yesterday?" "That would be awesome!" I said. Secretly hoping for maybe a 10 pound snapper or grouper but not wanting to dampen Marshall's enthusiasm.

After trolling for an hour and a half a squall blew in with quite a bit of rain and we decided to head back to Mima to wait out the rain and maybe get Greg to join us for round number two. As we began to head back I asked Marshall, "Do you want to troll back or bring in the lines and go fast?" "Let's troll back," he said. "Good choice" I commented "you never know when you are going to catch a fish." We were making our way slowly back to the boat when Marshall's line was slammed. "Dad I got one!" hollered Marshall as he began to play the fish. After a few violent runs the fish tired and Marshall landed a nice little two foot long Barracuda. "Can we show Greg?" Marshall asked as we slowly towed the barracuda behind the dinghy.

Once alongside S/V CToy, Greg rewarded Marshall with a healthy dose of enthusiasm and encouragement. We were chatting and telling fish stories with Greg and Barbara when Marshall suddenly let out a blood-curdling scream heard by all three boats in the anchorage. In my peripheral vision what I thought had been a chunk of coral under the boat began to move and was heading directly for us. I was so alarmed that I literally stepped back, which is hard to do in a dinghy, trying to avoid the vague leviathan approaching. A moment later a mouth appeared out of the water and swallowed the barracuda whole.

Now this created a problem. The barracuda was still attached to Marshall's line and we now had a Goliath Grouper hooked on very light tackle. If we landed this fish it will be a world record. Marshall was fishing with the equivalent of a medium weight trout rod. Perfect for small reef fish but way under powered to land a giant grouper.

Marshall handed the rod to me and as line screamed off the reel we both stood in shock at what we had just observed and Marshall realized he had been robbed of his fish by none other than a fish larger than himself. His earlier "what if" questions seemed to be coming true and for a few brief moments I just held onto the rod and Greg kept saying "Whoa! Did you see that?" As the grouper headed back to where he had come from I tried to set the hook but eventually the grouper decided this little barracuda was not worth the trouble and spit the fish out whole. Marshall landed the barracuda for a second time and he was much the worse for wear. Scarred and cut up by the grouper's teeth we got the barracuda on board and sat in awe of what had just happened. Like true fishermen everywhere we spent the rest of the day trying to catch that grouper again on stronger tackle, but in the end I guess that grouper did not get that big by falling for the same trick twice.

The following day found us sailing for Guatemala. Another 8 hours of motor sailing into the wind and we arrived in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala (country number three) greeted by a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins. We spent a day looking around the town and visiting a mall where the kids eagerly hit McDonalds for lunch while we opted for tacos.

We were up and weighing anchor the following morning at 2:30 a.m. to take advantage of a high tide crossing over the bar at the mouth of the Rio Dulce River at sunrise. Mima draws a little over 6 feet and the mean low water level at the bar is 5 feet 6 inches. If you do the math that means we need extra water to make it over safely without hitting bottom or going aground. Add to that equation a rather narrow "sweet spot" in the channel and you have an exciting bit of navigation before you.

We were at the set up buoy at 6:00 a.m. and with S/V Dream Odyssey and S/V CToy in the lead, both of which draw less than Mima, we began our slow and well planned crossing. For the next 15 minutes we carefully followed GPS waypoints with Greg calling out depths to warn me of any potential shallow spots. I was a nervous wreck, Susan faired pretty well, and Amy and Marshall were still in bed asleep. Sometimes it is good to be the crew and not the captain. Our crossing was accompanied by the shrimp fleet returning and once we had cleared the shallowest part of the bar Susan quickly got in the dinghy and was negotiating for shrimp before we were ever anchored. Marshall woke up and helped me set the anchor and by 6:30 we had crossed the bar and Susan was now the proud owner of 10 pounds of fresh shrimp.

We checked in with the local authorities and spent a few hours in Livingston, Guatemala before beginning up the Rio Dulce to our new home for the next 3 months. What a week it had been. Three countries in seven days highlighted by a pristine jungle experience, snorkeling and fishing in a paradise-like setting, Marshall being robbed by a giant grouper, and finally, safely crossing the bar into the famed Rio Dulce.

Fair Winds and Following Seas, the 4Wheelers

Sunday, August 10, 2008

3 Countries In 7 Days

Mima Has Landed

Three countries in seven days; hiking 2000 stairs, snorkeling with giant tarpon, Marshall being robbed, what a ride but we have finally arrived in Guatemala, our new home for the next three months. Before I get ahead of myself let me tell you about the past week and our continuing adventures.

If you recall my last article the kids had just finished their Scuba certification in Roatan, Honduras. After going on a couple dives together we left the Island of Roatan for Utila, the last of the Bay Islands. We spent 4 lazy days on Utila and enjoyed our time their very much before heading to the mainland of Honduras on our way to Guatemala and the Rio Dulce. Our sail to the mainland was not one. What I mean is that for the first time we experienced a west wind. What direction are we heading? You guessed it, west. Now in fairness to all the true sailors out there we could have tacked all over the place and sailed all the way to our destination but I have never claimed to be a true sailor. So we motor sailed and after 8 hours arrived at Puerto Escondido, Honduras.

The anchorage is part of a Honduran national park and we were greeted upon entering the anchorage with the fragrant bouquet of jungle flowers and the roar of Howler Monkeys. It was good to be back in the jungle again. The following day all three boats in our little flotilla (S/V Dream Odyssey, S/V CToy and S/V Mima) headed to shore to hike in the forest. I had not been on shore more than a couple of minutes and a pair of Plain Chachalaca (Google this one) came to check us out, very cool. Our real objective however, was a hike up 1000 stairs to an overlook we had heard about. We found the trail and were off. This is a rugged coast line and the stairs were necessary as it seemed that we were going straight up.

After 653 stairs, yes we counted as it kept our minds off our burning legs, we reached the top. It turns out that the remainder of the 1000 steps is on the way down the other side so down we went. After a quick rest stop we were back off up and over the ridge as we were only an hour away from sunset. After a total of 2000 stairs and a couple miles of trail we were back on board the boat. The jungle was beautiful here and perhaps the most pristine we have yet visited. Amy commented later after seeing plastic debris along a lonely stretch of beach and in the water, "I can see why it is so important not to litter." That lesson alone is worth the trip and we certainly hope we can play an active role in preserving what is left of our pristine jungles and forests.

The next morning we left for the Sapodilla Cays in Belize, country number two, after spending two months in Honduran waters. We eventually want to visit Honduras again and explore inland. The eight hour trip to the Sapodillas was uneventful with the exception of Marshall landing a nice King Mackerel. The Sapodilla Cays are the southernmost group of islands in the barrier reef of Belize. The primary reason we came here was to get a better point of sail for our trip to Guatemala and to break up the sailing legs so as not to require any overnight passages. After searching around for a while for a good anchorage big enough to hold all three boats we settled in close to Hunting Cay and realized we were sitting in a truly wonderful spot.

We quickly launched the dinghy and our time snorkeling revealed that we were in the middle of an aquarium. Abundant fish, crabs of all sorts, lobsters, conch the list goes on and on and all were here to greet us. Dinner was sushi from the Mackerel we had caught and we all went to bed tired but excited to be in a new country.

The next day found us snorkeling once again and we even did some fishing from the dinghy. While trolling through the reef systems we noticed a number of large Tarpon feeding on a school of minnows. We threw a few lures at them with no luck so we dropped the anchor and put on snorkel gear and quietly got in the water. What we saw before us was the most amazing scene I have ever observed underwater. In just 12-15 feet of water the reef was literally bursting with life. A large school of minnows were seeking refuge close to the reef and all the big dogs had come out to feed.

Observed from 30 feet away the scene was mesmerizing but then I swam directly into the minnows. They completely engulfed me and my visibility was reduced to mere inches. As I floated motionless on the surface without warning the minnows would part like the Red Sea and here swimming directly at me was a 5 foot long Tarpon or a school of Yellow Tailed Snapper or little Tuna and on one occasion a Grouper tipping the scale well in excess of 100 pounds. Add to this mix a few larger Tuna, Barracuda, Dog Snapper and all the normal reef inhabitants and it felt like someone had set us in the middle of the greatest fish tank ever conceived. It was truly awe inspiring and I hated to finally get out of the water.

Dinner that night was a fish fry on the beach, compliments of Greg and Barbara on S/V CToy, and a truly memorable day had come to a close. We were enjoying ourselves so much we decided to stay another day and do some more fishing and snorkeling. Little did we know that tomorrow Marshall would be robbed of one of his dearest possessions? To be continued……

Fair Winds and Following Seas, the 4Wheelers