Passage to Guatemala

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For nearly 2 years our family has been discussing the very difficult passage from Colombia to anywhere. The seas are big, the wind is high and the forecasts are nearly meaningless. With our delay in leaving we are now forced to go to Guatemala instead of Georgia to wait out hurricane season. We definitely are looking forward to visiting Guatemala; however the nearly 1,000 Nautical mile passage has many difficulties. Besides the large seas, high winds and distance, we have to avoid an area known for piracy, dodge the many lightning storms, and weave our way through some difficult Honduran islands.

The day before we left, Ashley and the kids spent cooking and freezing passage meals while I provisioned us for the planned 7-8 day passage at sea. We left early in the morning to very calm seas and no wind. As the sun rose over the eastern horizon so did the wind and we were soon sailing under Genoa and jib. By 10 in the morning we were making great speed when the seas began to rise. At first just a slight swell and then quickly rising to the tall compact waves that this area is known for. By noon we were in 20-25 knots of wind with a 6-8 foot sea state at less than 6 seconds apart. This was uncomfortable but not unexpected. So as we discussed prior to leaving we all just found a secure place to be as comfortable as possible and listened to audio books or whatever as long as it did not require moving around. On the first day no one felt like eating and we all just held on and got through it. By the second day we all had our sea legs back as well as our appetites. The boat was still being tossed around by the seas but we were able to get back to a little bit of normalcy at least as far as a passage is concerned. On the third day we all were good to go and the heeling of the boat, the crashing of the waves, the constant dropping into and off of waves was just our routine. The good part of higher that preferred winds was that Samadhi was flying. Normally if we travel 180 miles in a 24hr period we consider that pretty good. Our first 3 24hr periods we averaged over 210 miles. The winds were taking two whole days off of our passage and according to the forecasts they were going to continue. By the 4th day we reached the area off the Honduran coast known for recent piracy attacks so we turned off all broadcasting devices (AIS and radar) and left our lights off at night. We never saw another boat and we soon made the sharp left hand turn toward the Bay Islands of Honduras and safer waters.   On the 5th day we reached the islands which were a major point in the passage as the seas begin to lessen and the winds begin to diminish. At this point we were less than 130 miles from our destination. We had just traveled over 800 miles of difficult weather and seas and with the exception of some discomfort everything went very well. And now we are in much more protected waters with much lighter winds so the rest of the way should be smooth, right? Not even close! We passed the Bay Islands just before dark and had one more night and another day and we would arrive at our destination. And then, the lightning came. At first just off to our left, then to our right, and quickly it was all around us. I do not have the words to describe how terrifying lightning is to someone on a sailboat at sea. It is even more terrifying when it is all around you and even above you. We decided to take shelter next to one of the islands but by the time we were able to reach the narrow entrance through the reefs it was pitch black. So Ashley and I had to slowing find our way through the reefs using our charts, our depth finder and the light provided by the hundreds of lightning strikes happening all around us. We made it in and tucked ourselves up close to the hillside for the night. The next morning we woke up early and made a mad dash for our destination. The forecast called for a very small chance of more lightning in just a localized area. We planned to be well past that area before the lightning came. Not even close again! Once the sun went down that “localized” area became the entire northern coast of Honduras! Again, as soon as darkness came so did the electrical storms. Again, lightning surrounded the boat. So again we took shelter. This time we anchored in an industrial port between to coastal ships at anchor. The next day we completed the last 30 miles to the mouth of the Rio Dulce in zero wind and glass smooth seas. We anchored across the bay behind a point of land protecting us from the “prevailing” winds and seas. We were scheduled to cross the bar at 9am the next day. We anchored in perfectly calm waters and we all got some much needed rest for a few hours. We started laundry around noon and made some water to clean up the boat in the afternoon. Right after we finished dinner I went upstairs to put away the watermaker. I noticed some dark clouds headed our way from the other side of the bay so I told the kids to come up and take down our laundry before it all gets rained on. This time of year short but intense squalls are pretty common. So we are quickly put things away just as the “squall hit”. And it hit so very hard. The winds went from 5 knots to 30 knots in seconds. The rain was so intense you could not see 100 ft. Soon, a swell rose and Samadhi was pulling hard on her anchor. The wind and the now 4ft seas were trying to push Samadhi onto the beach. Just when the wind seemed to level off I said to the kids not to worry and that squalls do not last very long, we all felt the wind pick up in intensity! Ashley was up in the cockpit keeping an eye on our position on our GPS and watching the wind gauge she twice saw gusts over 60knots and we both saw a sustained speed in the mid 50knot range. The night was pitch black, the wind was howling and the waves were pitching us up and down. It got to the point where I started the engine and put us in forward to relieve some stress on our anchor chain. And just when we did not think it could be much worse… You guessed it, lightning! Lots and lots of lightning all around the boat. Here we are barely 10 miles from the protected waters of the Rio Dulce and we are getting our teeth kicked in for the third night in a row with this last night all the elements that sailors fear all at once. Well we made it through. The wind eased about 3 hours later. The seas abided about 8 hours later and the lightning stayed with us until day break the next day. Our amazing anchor held us in place perfectly. Believe it or not, our anchor did not drag at all! It did its job admirably. For the sailors reading this it is a Rocna and we will never own another brand of anchor, particularly after that night.

The next morning we raised anchor and crossed the bay to the mouth of the Rio Dulce. The bar of the river is only 4 feet deep and Samadhi has a draft of nearly 8ft. So we hired to boats to get us across. One of the boats attached to a line from the top of our mast and pulled us over. The over boat towed us in our heeling position across the ¼ mile of river bar and into the deeper water of the river. This process had a few hiccups but overall worked out well. We got across the bar and into the river. Here we checked into Guatemala and then continued up river to a small bay for the night. The trip up river was simply amazing and the most beautiful place I have ever taken a boat. We were surrounded by tropical rainforest smells, sights and sounds. The river was narrow and winding with steep sided hills on both sides. Locals were paddling dugout canoes both up and down river. It was simply amazing. The small bay that we spent the night in was equally amazing. We anchored just off a small Mayan village and were able to listen to their music and smell their food on the fire. The next day we continued up the lake to where we were scheduled to pull Samadhi out of the water for the season. She is now safely stored on land, safe from hurricanes and awaiting our return in November. We bought a car in Guatemala and drove from the Rio Dulce across Guatemala, nearly the length of Mexico and into Texas and then to Seattle. We got a lot of surprised looks from the many Mexican and Guatemalan military check points when our Guatemalan plated car pulled up with a family of gringos, a big dog and two cats and whole lot of stuff in the back, pulled up. At both the borders the customs agents could not believe what we were doing but let us pass. The drive took 57 hours of driving and about another 5 hours between the two borders as they both needed to empty our fully packed van and inspect our stuff. Overall it went pretty smooth and the kids were able to see the beautiful interior of Mexico. We’re sorry about the lack of pictures; as you can probably imagine, this last portion of our cruising season had a lot of “let’s just get there” and this blog was not exactly top of mind. We will post some pictures of our time with family in the PNW and look forward to next sailing season as it will be exploring the many Caribbean Islands in the winter and spring and then sailing across the Atlantic to Europe in May of 2023! And for those interested we will be looking for at least 2 crew members for the trip across the Atlantic.

We are being pulled over as we cross the bar
Do you see the line from the top of our mast connected to the small boat?
This was the least amount we were tilted over. The base of the railing on the right was at times under water. I was holding with both hands for that part.
In to the Rio Dulce!
Alexander at the helm in the river.
These bugs were everywhere at our marina.
Samadhi coming out of the water. It ended up taking two tractors to get this big girl up the ramp.
Samadhi anchored in a nice quiet bay with great neighbors. Good shot of her new dodger and bimini
The group of houses behind us is a small Maya community and the covered building to the right of us is a sail and rigging shop.
This is where the lake ends and the river begins.
The view from 400ft
The marina resort pictured is actually for sale. Ashley and I took a tour with the owner and thought about becoming resort owners. I would be lying if I said I was no longer considering it.
The view looking over our little bay out into the lake.
Looking toward the top of the lake and where we would head the next day.

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