So yet another first time adventure awaited us as we set sail for the Honduran Bay Islands. I hope I don't ever tire of the excitement that visiting a new country arouses. After discussion with our fellow rally members and feedback from Group 1 about their passage, we decided to break the journey round the coast of Nicaragua to the island of Guanaja in Honduras, with a stop over at the Honduran Vivario Cays. We had also received frequent comments and advice about the perils of sailing through Nicaraguan waters alone so we decided to adopt the safety in numbers policy and sail in groups.
As darkness descended we started to hear Spanish chatter on the radio and listened intently to see if we could decipher which nationalities were out at sea with us. One of the rally boats near us asked us to close ranks with them as they encountered other vessels which they were not sure about and they returned the favour later as they spotted lights from smaller vessels coming up on our rear. We continued safely on, but then started to hear someone broadcasting over the radio in Spanish asking a vessel at a specific position to identify themselves as they were in Nicaraguan waters. We discussed the situation with our rally neighbours, decided the Nicaraguans weren't hailing us as we weren't at those coordinates, and that we should high tail it out of the area.
Suddenly we heard friends on one of our rally yachts in another group respond to the Nicaraguan radio hail as they were the yacht in the position being broadcast. The next thing we knew our friends were on the radio advising that they were about to be boarded, but were not sure by whom. Another rally member sensibly suggested that any of us who could hear the radio exchanges should start making notes and we did this while waiting with baited breath to see what would happen next. Our friends yacht was then boarded and sadly damaged in the process. After some exchanges and checking of passports, they were allowed to continue on their way. They assumed the men with guns that visited them were official, but it was certainly an unnerving encounter for them.
After an eventful night at sea we were very pleased to reach Vivario Cays and get anchored safely alongside many of our rally friends. As the weather forecast was not great we decided to say put for an extra couple of days before sailing over the Guanaja. By this time the Honduran Coastguard had arrived and spent a couple of days close by ensuring we were safe before escorting us towards Guanaja.
We had an easy sail towards Guanaja, but as we were approaching the immigration check-in anchorage area we started to pick up a conversation on the radio about a friend who had injured himself whilst trying to work above deck. This was a worrying time, but we finally received the update that he had been transferred by helicopter to a hospital on the mainland and was going to be OK. His injury was major, but he had been lucky that it was not worse and we looked forward to greeting him when he was finally released from hospital.
The main island of Guanaja is a relatively quiet place as much of the population live in the capital Bonacca which is squeezed onto a tiny island off Guanaja, with buildings oozing out over the sea in many parts. Water taxis are the norm and we used these for both provisioning and touring around the island. We did the tourist spots of Big Gully waterfall and snorkeling at Michael's Rock, where we swam with an enormous group of jellyfish – almost like swimming through tapioca (I imagine). Luckily they didn't sting, but I really didn't enjoy having hundreds of blobs of jelly bouncing off me as I swam back to shore !
After a few discussions (and beers) over pizza at Hanne's Pizza Bar, the group came up with a cunning plan to delivery our friends yacht to Roatan in readiness for his release from hospital and arrival of family back up from the UK. The entrance to French Harbour on Roatan is an interesting slalom around reefs and wrecks, but we safely delivered the yachts and transferred the 'patient' back to his floating home.
Roatan was not quite what we were expecting and we were amazed by the diversity of animals that are kept on this holiday island. We were very sad to see lions and tigers in cages and wonder what will become of them, particularly as the number of tourists visiting this area seems to have reduced. On the plus side we really enjoyed a visit to Sherman Arch's iguana park where he has created a safe environment for iguanas to live and breed in their natural surroundings. As it was mating season whilst we were there many of the iguanas were out in the forests doing their thing, but we were still surrounded by young iguana eager for some tasty leaves to munch on. It was slightly disconcerting to be 'charged' by a group of prehistoric looking beasts as they spotted food in our hands, but they were fascinating creatures to learn about.
We had somewhat mixed weather during our stay in Roatan and we and many other yachts had issues with our anchors holding. We spent a little time exploring on land and underwater, and spent a few days tied up at Fantasy Island marina whilst Steve sorted out a cracked lid on the engine sea water filter, but we didn't feel that we had grasped the Roatan or Honduran culture. We were also starting to feel that our rally adventure was coming to an end and that it was time for us to sail to Guatemala and get ready to leave Wanderlust for a while.
Entering the Rio Dulce in Guatemala takes a bit of planning around high tides to get over the sand bar at the entrance. The spring high tide was set for the following Monday. but we decided that we would push the bar (literally !) and cross on the Friday before. This gave us a few days to make a quick trip to the island of Utila – our final Honduran stop over on the rally. It seemed a shame not to visit now we had made it all the way to Honduras.
We had a breezy sail down to Utila and anchored up in the very blowy bay near the main town. There were a few other yachts in the bay who didn't seem too pleased to see new yachts, but several of us anchored up for the night and enjoyed a sun downer on board Wanderlust. As we found the bay rather windy and bouncy we moved closer to shore the next morning to try and find a little more protection. Again other sailors in the area didn't seem pleased to see fellow sailors. Apparently there had been problems with yachts dragging in this bay which had made some yacht owners nervous, but our anchor held firm throughout our time in windy Utila.
We made a few trips ashore to try our customary plan of getting the feel for the island and culture, but were a little disappointed by the apparent lack of historical and cultural sights. The island is geared up for tourists (particularly divers) and would certainly appeal to a slightly bohemian crowd, but I think we were just in the wrong frame of mind at the end of the rally to enjoy what was on offer. We would probably love the 'hippie, veggie, surfie' vibe on another visit, but it really was time for us to call an end to our Western Caribbean rally adventure and set sail for the last leg of our journey to Guatemala.