Captain's Log, Stardate:

February 25, 2007

Arrived Puerto Cortez, Honduras!

 

Ahoy to All:

Last fall, we hauled Escape Cay at the Honduran Navy yard in Puerto Cortes. We assumed the yard would be safe since the gate is guarded by men with M16's. Wrongie, wrongie, wrongie! When my friend Bill and I returned to the boat on January 2nd, we were told that it had been broken into . . . back in July! Nobody felt it advisable to call us, I guess.

A lot of stuff was missing: My $1200 image stabilized binoculars, the built in computer monitor, digital caliper, 85 ORIGINAL DVD movies, all my audio cd's, wireless headphones, a dozen or so bottles of booze, my flare pistol cartridges, etc. In addition to the cool, expensive stuff, they also took a couple of packs of dental floss, a pair of compass bearing binoculars (with a water logged lens), my laser range finder (which had quit working several years ago), my obsolete audio cassette player, and a lot of other junky/useless stuff.

The explanation I received was that the case was solved. An officer had spotted a couple of recruits drinking some very expensive Venezuelan Rum (impossible to find in Honduras ) and became suspicious. An "investigation" was launched and the 10 other men implicated gave up 80% of the stuff they had stolen, which was returned to me in sealed boxes with attached inventories! As punishment, the men were all dishonorably discharged. I was so impressed and thankful, I made a gift of two bottles of booze to the Comandante Segundo (2nd in command at the base).

When I opened the boxes, I found all the good stuff still missing. For some reason, they only managed to recover the tainted or near-worthless items! Out of 85 DVD's, the "investigation" failed to recover a single one of them!

Then I noticed the flare pistol was missing seven cartridges but the pistol itself was left behind. Strange. Why would they take the cartridges without the pistol? When I opened the pistol, I found a spent shell in the chamber! But there were no spent cartridges on the boat anywhere, or lying on the ground beneath the boat. So either: They took the pistol to a secluded beach somewhere, fired all the rounds, and then altruistically returned the pistol to the boat OR they fired off all the rounds from the boat while still in the Navy yard, knowing the Navy is also the search and rescue arm in Honduras! In the later case, most everyone in the yard would have known about the burglary including the "Segundo."

When I met El Segundo the next day, I asked how he liked the rum. He said, "Ohhh. A terrible thing happened. My daughter accidentally broke the bottles." His credibility was waning as far as I was concerned. I declined to offer him a replacement bottle. When I repeated that exchange to a local expatriate, he immediately said, "Did you ask him if the bottles were full or empty at the time!" That never dawned on me for some reason.

Eric, Larry and Susan arrived a couple weeks later and we all rode Escape Cay across the tarmac to her preferred milieu, the Caribbean Sea . From Puerto Cortes, we sailed to Livingston and from there up the Rio Dulce deep into Guatemala . We left the boat in a marina for a few days while we toured inland to Tikal , one of the largest examples of the lost Mayan civilization.

We took a bit of a chance by taking the bus to Flores, the closest town to Tikal , where we were told we could catch another bus to Tikal . We also assumed they would have two vacant rooms for us. When the bus finally "got to Flores ," many backpackers and the like got off. We weren't sure if we should too but a man came aboard the bus and said, "All those going to Tikal , get off here." That was lucky because we weren't sure that where the bus stopped was really the town of Flores . It turned out, it wasn't! We were on the outskirts of town and the "nice man" was actually running a business. His job was to shoe people off the bus into the waiting arms of his friend, the mini-bus driver. Unfortunately, he "overbooked" so the mini bus only had room for two of the four of us. (In truth, it really only had room for about six less than were already on it; the 20 tourists or so were packed in it like sardines!) We declined to allow ourselves to be split up so both the big bus and the little bus drove away, leaving us standing by the side of this Guatemalan "highway" as the sun was setting. "Luckily," the shoe-man had a "friend" only ten minutes away who would be able to drive us to Tikal , about another hour away. Of course it would cost triple to what any Tikal bus would have charged. When the guy arrived, his car was a wreck! I asked how his breaks were and his windshield wipers? Bueno!

Of course he had to stop at a gas station to raise the needle above "Empty" far enough to make it to Tikal and back . . . well, at least to Tikal . And while at the gas station, why not add a little water to the radiator since the car had begun to overheat anyway? Very efficient. However, adding water somehow caused the wipers to come on and he couldn't get them to stop. So he "re-booted" the car twice (turned the ignition off and on) and on the second try, the wipers stopped. The car must have liked those short rests because, on its own accord, the engine quit about half way to Tikal . But he was able to restart and we finally made it all the way there.

We stayed overnight in a nice hotel right on the site (after being told the first one was full). The generator is turned off every night at 10 p.m. and so we got dressed at 4:30 a.m. the next morning with our hotel-supplied flashlights. (Does your favorite hotel furnish YOU with flashlights?) Then we walked through the jungle in the darkness for about an hour until we arrived at pyramid/temple #4. The five of us climbed the 195 steps to the top in the pre dawn hours so that we could sit at the top and watch the morning sun rise over the jungle and the many other temples, palaces, acropolis's, and plazas that Tikal consists of. Excavations indicate some 1100 years of nearly ceaseless construction by the Mayans to achieve the vast and complex city they built there.

After two days, we returned to the Rio Dulce and headed back out the river to the clear waters and clean air of the Caribbean and Belize . Belize has the second longest barrier reef in the world. We had wonderful diving and lobstering in the Sopadilla Cays, Glover Reef, and the Turneff Islands , all atolls outside the reef. We caught a large rock grouper off the Sopadillas and at Glover, we literally got all the lobster we could eat (at one meal). However, the lobster are being fished so hard, they moved the close of the lobster season up to Feb. 15 (from March 31).

A storm was forecast so we wanted to "cross the blue" and get behind the reef before it hit on Feb. 15. We thought about anchoring at Rendezvous Cay which lies right on the reef but decided to "play it safe" and proceed a couple miles behind the reef to the Bluefield Range where we were sure to have no big waves. However, we tried anchoring three times there and immediately dragged anchor each time! The bottom was a silty slurry with no consistency and no holding ability. Plus there would always be weeds on the anchor when it came up which tend to clog its "jaws." It was getting late in the day with coral heads and inner reefs all around us. The wind was 20 kts out of the NW with gusts to 25. Our guide book showed another island nearby with a "beach" so we hurriedly motored the three miles there and tried again to anchor off the "beach" (and fishing camp) hoping for sand. We again dragged right away. There were some fishermen on shore so I yelled to them, "Where can we find some sand around here?" They yelled back, "Around the other side of the island!" Luckily, they speak English in Belize ! Sure enough, although not listed on the charts as an anchorage (like Bluefield Range was), the holding was excellent and we spent a restful, secure night there.

But before the sun set, another sailboat joined us. They had been motoring "into it" for hours and were happy to see our "stick." We invited them for a sundowner and it turned out, when they saw our mast, they thought they had found the designated anchorage on Bluefield Range . That's a bit like an airplane landing at the wrong airport isn't it? Or maybe WE were at the wrong island! We didn't think so.

 

The next morning, we set sail for Belize City . As we passed south of the infernal Bluefield Range , we caught a huge mutton snapper (right). A little later, we had caught three large crevelle jacks and a nice cero mackeral. I had always thought the fishing was best in deep water where almost no matter what you catch, it's edible and usually REALLY edible. But with grouper, mackeral, and snappers, we weren't doing too badly in 15 feet of water.

Eric received an email from a friend who said we should check out Chapel Cay. A few days later, we stopped by the island which is listed in our guidebook as "private." However, the sign we saw in the binoculars said, "Welcome to Caye Chapel; Please Register at the Club House." But we could see no guests on shore, only workers so it looked private. Nonetheless, we went ashore. The lady at the desk, Katie, confirmed it was "public." Lunch was $15 and would be served at noon. How do you make money like that? Larry and Susan had been planning on getting off the boat in the next day or two so I asked how much rooms were? "Our 2BR villas rent for $1,000." Per week? "No, per night." Oh. thank you. I guess you could make money at a thou per night. But it would be helpful if a few of them were rented, which it appeared they weren't.

 

 

It was only 9:30 so we debated if we should linger for 2.5 hours waiting for lunch "to be served." Katie helped us make up our mind. She said, "I'll have a couple of golf carts brought up for you if you would like to explore the island while you wait." Ya, mon! Oddly, she then asked us all to sign a release from liability.

 

Lunch on the Veranda

 

The golf carts allowed us to whiz from one end to the other and all parts in between. The island was stunningly beautiful. White sand and palm trees everywhere. Crystal clear water at every water's edge. All the landscaping was immaculate. The beach is combed every morning with a machine to make sure there isn't a speck of litter. There is an 18 hole golf course, said to be the only one in the entire Country. I saw six men out on the course, all workers but eventually, we saw a couple actually playing golf. Our chart showed an airstrip on the north end of the island but it was actually on the south end. When I asked about it, the lady said, "Oh yes. We moved it. It would have been too dangerous for the golfers to cross the runway and would affect our insurance." "You MOVED the runway?" I asked incredulously, trying to imagine what it would cost to "move" a runway. "Yes, and improved it. It's now 3400 feet paved."

Later, Larry observed, "Moved the runway to make it safe for the guests? Then why did we all have to sign waivers?" Good point. And if they had insurance, why the waivers?

Eric had heard from his friend, Knute, the island had been for sale for 50 million dollars a few years back and mentioned it to Katie. She said, "Oh yes, that's right. The owner actually received a full price offer which he refused (by raising the price beyond what the buyer would pay). The price is now $85 million." I've known sellers like that before, in my career!

View from our table with “private” (and empty) marina in the background

 

Lunch was served on the 2nd floor of the Club House, in a huge room capable of seating 80-100 people. Even the second floor had a 20 foot ceiling with ornate fixtures and very classy furniture. Best of all, it had a deck all around where you could dine outside if you liked. We liked! We had a breathtaking view of the grounds, golf course, beaches (on each side), blue sky, and a different blue for each of the various depths of water. Another man in a wheel chair was there with a woman and, according to the bartender, his body guard. When we left, the wheelchair man was sunning himself out on the dock with the bodyguard near by. As we stepped out on the dock, the BG rose to his feet, and when we approached, made small talk about how nice our boat was which was why he photographed it, he said, and remained on his feet until our dinghy docked at the big boat.

So what kind of island is this? Is this where a movie star would go to "get away from it all?" Were we allowed on then simply because no other celebrity had reserved it at the time? I told Katie I would be returning with new crew on or about the 28th and did she think we could come ashore for lunch again? She checked her schedule and said that a party of 22 would be on the island at that time. “Yes . . . and so do you think you could handle 25?” "I don't know for sure. Why don't you give me a call the day before and I'll let you know."

Are you kidding? The island has about 50 rooms and the dining room could handle all 100 guests at the same moment, never mind if it's open for three hours and no one takes more than an hour and a half to eat! It sounded more to me like, "I'll ask Tiger Woods when he gets here with his group if he would mind sharing the island—and the beautiful golf course--with four riffraff boat people bugging him for his autograph."

We came back to Caye Chapel for another lunch and, the next morning, an $8 breakfast at which time Larry and Susan caught the ferry north. We had seen quite a few dolphins during the voyage but on this morning, a pair accompanied us--right in the anchorage--as we dinghied in, a fitting end to Larry and Susan's trip! Then Eric and I headed southwest back to " Belize " (as they call Belize City here).

The next morning, taxi driver "Steven" drove Eric to the airport and me to town afterwards. So I asked Steven about Caye Chapel. He had heard little but was fascinated by my story. When I told him how nice and private it was, he immediately concluded it was reserved solely for members of the present political party so that the more I told him how exclusive it was, the more his theory was confirmed. Steven did not like the present political party--who doesn't?--which was one of the reasons why he only listens to 105.9 radio, the "Opposition Party's" station. He urged me--begged me--to call in to the station and tell them what I had told him. For one of the few times in my life, I told him, I didn't want to "get involved." After all, I had Mark and Les arriving two days later and I didn't want to give Katie reason to drop me like a bad habit! I'll let you know later if we were able to return to " Mystery Island ."

 

Tomorrow, we head for Mexico , then Florida where we will sadly place Escape Cay on the market!

Hope all is well with you and your family!

Lee