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Western Caribbean Cruising, Part 1:  Guatemala to Honduras

 Approaching Providenciaby Sharon Kratz, s/v Rose of Sharon

Ridin' the range once more, totin' my old .44,
Where you sleep out every night and the only law is right,
RBack in the saddle again.
Whoopi-ty-aye-oh, rockin' to and fro,
Back in the saddle again.
Whoopi-ty-aye-yay, I go my way,
Back in the saddle again. --- Gene Autry

“They knew better than to do this kind of thing,” Emy would say to our tearful daughters. “Sharon always said ‘Safety First’ was her motto.” She sighed. “I can’t believe they’re dead, but it was such a stupid thing to do.”

That’s exactly how it will be, I thought to myself. You do something dangerous and stupid – if you survive, it’s a story. If you die, everyone remembers you died doing something stupid. We’re going to be remembered as two of the dumbest people on the Rio Dulce, second only to that twin-engine airplane pilot who tried to fly under the Rio Dulce Bridge. His last words on the radio were probably, “¡Oye, Bubba! Watch this!”

I squinted and tried to see through the torrential rain, through the heavy, wet darkness. A cayuco edged near the shoreline, seeking safety in the tangle of jungle. The Rio Dulce Navy Patrol boat zipped past us, lights on and sweeping the water, then they shut off all their lights to investigate something under the cover of darkness. Maybe us.

I continued my discussion with myself. Great. If we don’t get hit by a lancha, we’ll get busted by the Navy.

We were in our groceries-laden dinghy that was also seriously filling up with rainwater, crossing Guatemala’s Rio Dulce at night with no lights, no flashlight nor any kind of flotation device onboard. We were just feet away from the site where several members of one family were killed, less than a month ago, when two speeding unlit lanchas ran into each other at night.

Joe steered slowly across the river and then our dinghy hugged the relative safety of the river’s shore. I smiled. Cheated death again. “There’s the opening!” I pointed to a break in the foliage.

“Are you sure?” asked Joe. “If you’re wrong, we’re going to be picking bugs out of our hair for hours.”

“I’m sure,” I returned. “I can see it.”

Joe nosed into the opening and then we were out of the river, dinghying across a small cove toward our boat.

The owner of a nearby hotel and marina had given us a hearty “Good luck!” and a flashlight for our dinghy-trip into one of the worst storms we’d seen in ages. “I can’t believe you lost Steve’s flashlight,” Joe said as we carefully hauled our bagged groceries onboard.

I had dropped it getting into the dinghy. We stripped out of our wet clothes in the cockpit and high-fived. Then, laughing, we hurried inside our snug boat, out of the weather and grateful once again to be at a dock and not “out in it.”

The next day, as storms continued to sweep the area, we left the dock and “got out in it,” but not in our dinghy, thank goodness! Joe and I like to boast that we are not agenda-driven, but we were about to resume our cruising life, so we had several mini-agendas, one of which included anchoring out in Gringo Bay for a few days. I had received a small monetary donation for the village of Cayo Quemado’s high school. This high school had been established and funded by U.S. retirees and one expatriate and its teacher’s salary is $2,000/year. Most children in Guatemala, if they attend school at all, do not attend past the sixth grade. Establishing and maintaining a high school in a remote jungle village was quite an accomplishment! One of its founders quietly mentioned to me that the two thousand dollars was sometimes hard for her to spare, so I offered to at least request some donations while in the states. I was eager to visit Cayo Quemado to see where this small donation would be used, and Cayo Quemado is located near Gringo Bay. Since Gringo Bay is so near Texan Bay, and since Thanksgiving was in two days, we decided to join the group at Texan Bay for a pitch-in Thanksgiving, too.

We had hoped Gringo Bay’s resident artist, Jennifer, would be able to paint our Rose of Sharon hibiscus on the back of the boat. Our first flower was painted by Stuart Stout of Texas, and I had touched it up for over 7 years until it was an unsightly mess, a shaky remnant of his original work of art. Jennifer painted our second hibiscus and it was so alive, so detailed, that it was suitable for framing. It was the most beautiful flower any boat ever wore, I was sure.

After Thanksgiving, we returned to Catamaran Marina and manager, Emy, allowed us to stay and pay by the week. All along the Rio Dulce, cruisers were getting ready to go to Belize or, as in our case, to Honduras to begin the passage to Panama. Joe was filling jerry cans, organizing, organizing. I was creating location spreadsheets, pulling together check-out and check-in documents, and shuffling everything in the cabin. We were provisioning and as usual, arguing about how much drinking water we would need. But throughout all of the departure chaos, I was networking, radioing, begging and desperately searching for someone to paint a flower on the back of our boat.

One artist who was “really good,” left the day before I called Tortugal Marina. “You can catch up with her in Belize,” said Texas boater Russ of S/V Cookies Cutter. We weren’t going to Belize.

Another cruiser/artist had just flown into Guatemala City and would be back on the river soon. “She’s really good,” I was told. “She’ll be here in about two days if she doesn’t go to Antigua.” She went to Antigua.

There was a local man named Marco, no last name, no cellphone, who had done the artwork for Bruno’s Restaurant. “He’s really good,” said the restaurant manager. “I’ll put out the word on the streets that you’re looking for him.” Evidently, Marco never went to the streets. Or maybe he was there but never left. Nobody heard from Marco.

We had gathered all the cans of paint together for our as-yet unknown artist, and I was considering that we paint the flower ourselves. “You’re a detail man,” I offered, as Joe bent over one of his jobs on his to-do list. Sweat was dripping into his eyes, which had a slightly wild look at this point. The last thing on his mind was a flower; his job was to secure the boat and make sure she was mechanically prepared for an extensive journey, and for almost two weeks, my days had been flower frenzy.

“You do the outline, and I can do the blending for the petals and leaves,” I said tentatively. “We can do it!”

Joe straightened up and stared at me and I can only imagine what he wanted to say. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said, and returned to his work.

I was getting desperate. “We don’t sail without that flower on our stern,” I told Joe. “The Rose doesn’t go anywhere without her rose.”

Finally, a friend mentioned a local artist, Arnoldo. “They say he’s pretty good,” she said. “But I don’t know how hard it would be for him to paint from the water in a bouncing dinghy, seeing as how he’s only got one arm.”

“He sounds perfect,” I replied.

new hibiscus for roseArnoldo appeared at the boat and offered to do the job for Q100 (about thirteen dollars). He was slightly older and dressed much nicer than most of the boat boys, with dress slacks and a tucked-in cotton shirt. I thanked him profusely, and assured him I had the paints. The next day he appeared early, climbed the ladder down into the dinghy, and we didn’t hear from him for three hours until he motioned for Joe to join him for a conference.

There was no green paint. Or at least, not the right color of green. I didn’t understand the problem, but some of the cans were latex paint and some of the cans were acrylic paint and they wouldn’t blend to form the right shade of green. He would need to return the next day with more paint.

The next day, Arnoldo returned and finished the flower. As it turns out, he’s a teacher at a nearby primary school; he proudly showed me his college graduation ring. His art provides a sideline income during the months when school is out of session in Guatemala (October-December). I offered him Q200 and he seemed happy with that. He posed for pictures in front of his creation. I made him sign it too.

One of my favorite places in the world is in Natchez, Mississippi: it’s called Fat Mama’s Tamales, home of the Knock-You-Naked margarita. Well, our new hibiscus is pink. It is Knock-You-Naked PINK. It’s quite lovely and because you don’t argue with art, I never asked why he decided to paint our flower pink. As we entered our last days before D-Day (Departure Day), I had assumed a Buddhist-like state of refuge from my usual pre-departure panic and was convinced everything happened for a reason. If our flower is pink, it was meant to be pink. I love our new hibiscus.

lastnite on the rio dulceThe next day, Emy found the exact same color of pink hibiscus somewhere in the manicured jungle surrounding the Catamaran Hotel, and on our last night in civilization, at happy hour, I took photos of Rio Dulce boaters with that pink hibiscus, and because of the average age of most cruisers, it looked like an ad for a senior citizens’ Assisted Living resort. Hey . . . with Happy Hour, it really is “assisted living.” The day we left, I ceremonially tossed the hibiscus into the River. Some of our happiest days have been spent in Guatemala. Joe and I will return; I’m sure of it.

So we were underway again. Our departure theme song is Gene Autry’s “Back in the Saddle Again,” and its lyrics represent, for me, the quintessential essence of cruising: you sleep out every night and the only law is Right.

Our first day’s travel itinerary was ambitious, but it worked out just fine. We left the Rio Dulce at 7:30 a.m., motored downriver to Livingston and dropped anchor by 11:30. Joe took all the paperwork and documents I had put together, plus I had e-mailed the check-out information to Raul.

Raul had been with Guatemala Customs for many years. He was now serving as an independent agent. Long-time Rio Dulce cruisers knew Raul to be trustworthy and he had, for a very long time, been the main reason check-in and check-out had always gone smoothly for cruisers; when he left his government position, many cruisers wanted to continue working with him. If you’ve been in Guatemala, you know that any process involving the government can be good, bad or ugly but will most likely be lengthy. The check-out cost Q450, which was Q150 (about $20) more than we’d planned, so that must have been Raul’s fee.

Joe and I continued underway to Cabo Tres Puntas and dropped anchor before nightfall. The commercial traffic was much busier than we recalled, and crossing the shipping lanes even in the daylight required we turn on the radar. The tankers and tows appeared out of nowhere and were within 25 nautical miles in what seemed like no time. It wasn’t the Houston Ship Channel by any stretch of the imagination, but it was more working vessel traffic than we’d seen in years.

At Cabo Tres Puntas we were clear of the shipping lane. Not so far away that I would sleep that night, but that’s our dynamic: Joe sleeps as well as I will let him at night, while I prowl the boat, on the lookout for pirates and a dragging anchor. Yes, we have an anchor alarm but I can’t hear it and don’t trust him to hear it either.

At sundown, Joe sat in the cockpit, watching big-o boats parade to and from Puerto Barrios. The sun eased behind the mountains, and he drank his Victoria beer. “Don’t you want some wine?” he asked as I prepared supper.

“I can’t take a chance on seasickness,” I replied. “Drinking alcohol makes it worse, if you’re prone to seasickness.” And I am a notoriously bad sailor. I also threw up while surfacing on almost every dive we ever made, but it never stopped me. It’s always seemed a small price to pay for a glimpse into the magic of waterworld. The same is true of ocean passages. The discomfort is temporary; the rewards are eternal.

Our anchor point at Cabo Tres Puntas, Guatemala was 15°55.89N and 088°35.99W. I uploaded our position report to Winlink using our Single Sideband (SSB) radio and the best station reception came from Shreveport, Louisiana. Close to home! Winlink had a map that I sent to my family so they could “see” the location of our boat. It also had a satellite view – for the more earthy internetters – but my favorite was the “hybrid” view, a combination of satellite imagery and a line art map. Friends and family were following our cruising on Winlink.

The next day’s passage was to Escondido Bay, Honduras and I was dreading it. We’d made the trip once before and it was one of our all-time worst passages. I had always figured our speed at 5 knots, worst-case. The last time we’d sailed to Escondido Bay, we averaged 2 knots when we weren’t – literally – getting shoved backwards. We’d had high winds on the nose, confused seas, I was sick, Joe was exhausted, and when we arrived at the dangerous, rock-lined anchorage entrance after dark . . .  we went in anyway, relying completely on waypoints given to us by fellow-cruiser Paul of S/V AngelHeart. It was a stupid thing to do and we would never do it again, we swore.

So I did the math, this time, allowing for an awful day at sea, and determined if we left Cabo Tres Puntas any later than 5:00 a.m., we were doomed. At five a.m., I sat in the cockpit behind the wheel, ready for Joe to weigh anchor and to motorsail as fast as we could to Escondido Bay. Joe said it was too dark and there was too much ship channel traffic. He couldn’t see around the curve of Cabo Tres Puntas.

“So, you’re UNwilling to leave a safe anchorage in the dark, but you’re willing to enter a dangerous anchorage in the dark?” I grumbled. “It’s one or the other.”

“Give it a few more minutes,” he soothed. “When we make the passage to Panama, we’re going to do it on a full moon. Meanwhile, twenty minutes will make a big difference in the visibility here.”

He was right. And once again, shipping traffic was heavy but this time we were paralleling the channel, not crossing it. I took a Bonine for seasickness and decided it was too late to put on the patch, gritted my teeth, and waited for wind and waves to turn our boat into a crazy cork, bobbing up a down and getting batted to and fro by the wicked witch of the seas.

It never happened that way. We had seas about 4 feet out of the northeast, winds gusting to 15 knots out of the northwest, and except for one quick squall, a good day. I was queasy enough that I stayed out of the rolly galley, so Joe ate 26 crackers that day. I made my first underway report to the Caribbean Net, 6.209 on Single Sideband at 0800 local time, which corresponds with Central Time in the States.

approaching escondidoWe approached Escondido Bay about 4:30 p.m., and I had no clue about which way we were supposed to enter, because the entrance is marked by two large boulders and one semi-visible string of rocks. Joe lined up according to his waypoints, which meant we actually entered at an angle between the half-hidden rocks and one of the boulders.

The other interesting thing about Escondido Bay is that, in a norther, the tiny cove has what we call a “toilet bowl” effect. The average depth is 9-11 feet and in a norther, water surges in and out, building to a point where any boat inside the anchorage is tossed high into the air then slammed down with great force, hitting the bottom and eventually breaking up. It happens about every two or three years – some hapless cruiser seeks protection from a norther in Escondido Bay and too late, realizes he’d have been better off in the ocean. And the boat is bashed to splinters in “the toilet bowl.”

Our anchorage was at 15°54.75N and 087°38.10W. We toasted each other for a successful day’s journey, and this night, I sat in the cockpit beside Joe, drinking my box wine and eager for a good night’s sleep. The next day, Joe checked into the Caribbean Net to report our safe arrival at Escondido Bay. When I awoke – finally – I spent the day picking up everything that had flown around the cabin during the previous day’s passage and as soon as I finished, I slid out of the boat and into the cool water. My first Caribbean swim since January 2007 and it was sweet!

When I am swimming off the boat, I have a process of sorts: first, Joe ties a line to the boat and tosses it into the water. If I don’t know how strong the current is, I hang onto that line until I’ve determined the direction and strength of the waves or the current. Then, I take a flotation device with me. I’ve always been a strong swimmer, but I’m fifty-five years old, overweight, and it’s time to make some concessions to my aging body. So I always swim with a noodle or float. Also, a flotation device helps steady your hand as you bob around in the ocean holding a wineglass.

I had put a pitcher of fresh water in the cockpit so I could rinse after my salt water shower. The Caribbean Net was tracking a late-season named tropical storm, Olga, so we couldn’t spare another day lounging in Escondido Bay, much as we enjoyed it. Olga’s path was fairly clear and we believed Honduras would get a minimal bit of rain and no wind from the storm, but there was a ten percent chance the storm would turn. Ten percent was enough to send us from Escondido Bay to the relative safety of the Bay Islands.

We were underway to Utila. “I feel terrific!” I shouted up to Joe. “Would you like some breakfast?” He was thrilled at the sight of a large bowl of oatmeal.

“We get better at this every day we’re out,” he enthused, but he was just being nice. He starts out good; I’m the one that takes awhile to feel halfway normal. I felt hungry a couple of times during the day but didn’t want to dance with the devil, so I drank my water and ate a cracker midday. Joe couldn’t believe he got breakfast and lunch on the same day. Underway.

Rose of Sharon rode the Caribbean waters as she was born to. If we had ordered Weather-To-Go, our daytrip to Utila was what we would have requested. Beautiful baby-blue skies, swells 4-5 feet, and about 2 knots of wind made for a wonderful day at sea. For someone like me, whose idea of good passagemaking is in the Doldrums, this was nice.

Utila is the smallest of the three Bay Islands. We assumed that cruisers were still boycotting Utila, so once we dropped anchor, we did not plan to leave the boat. In years past, the theft at that particular anchorage had become so organized and had reached such proportions that cruisers unofficially agreed to boycott the island. The crime against boaters was coordinated so that the thieves watched the anchorage, assessed the number of people on a boat, then as soon as the boaters dinghied toward town, entered and stripped the inside of the anchored, vacant boat within minutes. One cruiser complained that his one open hatch was so small, only a child could have entered. He was robbed of all his electronics while he visited a nearby anchored boat at sunset.

There was only one other vessel anchored in Utila’s cove. I waved at them as we entered and they dinghied past, but they returned my wave with glares. Europeans, I thought. They all think we’re idiots. Later, when we realized that their boat was anchored in a ferry lane, I didn’t feel quite so dumb. C'est la vie!

Our anchorage at Utila was 16°05.5N and 086°53.68W.

Our final destination for this leg would be the island of Roatan. We visited Roatan in May 2006, following four months of fostercaring our Guatemalan grandson in Antigua. To be perfectly honest, at that time, I was depressed. I just don’t know many women who can receive a baby shortly after his birth, nurture and live only for him for four months, then hand him over to his rightful owner – in this case, our own daughter – without feeling something akin to emotional bankruptcy. I had insisted we sail to Roatan because if we didn’t “go anywhere” in 2006 we couldn’t call ourselves cruisers! That was my logic, but my attitude was terrible. Plus I contracted dengue somewhere in the Bay Islands and couldn’t move for two weeks afterward. Dengue is the worse headache you can ever imagine.

This time, I thought, You have the Right Attitude, it’s the Right Time, and Roatan will Rule!

As was their wont, the Spanish rushed in to the Bay Islands to claim the area as soon as Columbus discovered it. It seems to me that the Spanish conquered many lands but never seemed to hang on to them; the British later moved in and laid claim to Belize and the Bay Islands. Today, Honduran people who speak English, Spanish, and Black Caribe (which is akin to our Creole-type language) live in the Bay Islands. There is one Garifuna tribe on Roatan, and they offer some great music and good foods in Punta Gorda.

festival french harborThe Bay Islands are home to the second-largest barrier reef in the world and Roatan is the most developed of the three islands. We saw and met many tourists, divers, and ocean-lovers from all over the world visiting Roatan. While we were there, a Christmas Festival was held in French Harbor and it was ethnically wonderful! We went with two other cruising couples and it was difficult to bypass the empañadas and fried foods being sold on the streets. As part of the festival parade, the Spanish vaqueros rode proud, prancing, high-stepping horses, young black Hondurans played reggae and rap music on loudspeakers from truck beds and the young Hispanic Hondurans played salsa from their truck beds. When one truck stopped next to us, one of its riders thrust a microphone down and I issued a loud, Mexican/Native American trill. The streets went wild and I was applauded. I think that might have been my fifteen minutes of fame!

However, the language-thing in the Bay Islands is confusing. I approached a group of tiara-adorned 8-year-old ballerinas and asked one – in my best Spanish possible – if she wanted me to take a photo of her with her digital camera. In a diva-like tone, she conveyed her annoyance when she said, “I don’t speak Spanish!” Her mother turned to me and sighed apologetically, then turned back to her daughter, frowned, and said, “What-EVER! Do you want your picture or not?!”

I didn’t mean to offend anyone, but fifty percent of the time on the Bay Islands of Honduras, if you launch into English, you are met with a blank stare. And if you speak Spanish, you take a chance on offending your listener. What-EVER…

Many cruisers were making the Bay Islands their seasonal stomping ground, exploring every nook and cranny of the islands and taking no prisoners. They would then return to Guatemala’s Rio Dulce for hurricane season. This did sound appealing, I have to admit. But this was our Panama Passage.

Our first anchorage at Roatan was in front of the now-defunct Roatan Yacht Club. Since our visit in 2006, its German owner had been killed, execution-style, by some men who belonged to an organization that responded to insults with bullets. The owner’s family fled and the yacht club deteriorated rapidly.

When Joe and I anchored near its marina in December 2007, we were disheartened to discover the internet was a salty $3/hour, the electricity was turned off – or on – at the whim of the man running the front office, and that cruisers who visited the yacht club might or might not be charged $2 for tying up their dinghies and walking across the property to the nearby grocery store. The restaurant was gone, the bar was closed, and the office discouraged cruisers from visiting the property.

The smell of raw sewage permeated the once-lovely grounds, which were mucky and muddy near the water’s edge. Two mangy dogs patrolled the docks and none of the boaters claimed ownership, but almost everyone fed them scraps. They were good watchdogs but needed a bit of scrubbing and TLC.

Even worse, the locals had begun using the nearby banks as their communal dumping ground, so the trash piled up on the shoreline was unsightly and smelly. The trash in the water was bad, too. I told Joe if I fell overboard to just shoot me rather than let me live with whatever diseases I would get from the brackish backwater anchorage. We stayed there almost a week, riding out a norther’s winds and rains.

Our anchorage coordinates were 16°21.18N, 086°27.30W.

While at anchor there, a shrimper lost power and was adrift for about twenty terrifying minutes. Joe and I were in the cockpit, watching as the large vessel came closer and closer . . . and finally I jumped up and said, “Turn on the engine! I don’t know what we can do, but we may have to do something!” Then I rushed down the companionway and turned off Joe’s satellite radio talk show program. It was his favorite program.

Another Kemah, Texas boat, S/V Oasis came over the VHF: “Rose of Sharon, there appears to be something off your bow . . .” and I returned with, “Yes, Jim! We see it! It’s a shrimp boat adrift!” I ran back up into the cockpit only to see the bow of the shrimp boat within feet of our starboard side. I gasped. Then Joe said, “Why’d you turn off the radio? I was listening to that program!”

And there we have yet another example of how two people, on a small boat, can lead two separate lives in the same timeframe. I stared at him, dumbstruck. “Are you kidding me? We’re about to get whacked by a Honduran shrimp boat and I turned off the radio so we could hear better when we sink!”

“You’re always turning off my talk radio,” he complained. “You’ll use any excuse to –” and he looked over his right shoulder. “Hey,” he continued. “It’s going to pass us but hit Gil’s boat. Go down and try to call Gil on the radio.”

“What’s his boat name?” I asked as I scurried back down the companionway stairs.

“I don’t know,” replied Joe. “But the guy’s name is Gil.”

I picked up the mike and began hailing, “Gil! Gil! This is Rose of Sharon! There is a runaway shrimp boat bearing down on your bow!”

No response. Later, Gil told us he monitored channel 16. Other boaters had said the channel to monitor was 72. Because the Bay Islands are such a transient site for cruisers, no local VHF Net had been established, and communications among local cruisers were catch-as-catch-can. I didn’t think to try another channel, I just threw down the mike and ran back upstairs. The large shrimp boat was past us but floating sideways toward the bow of the other sailboat. I could see the shrimper’s crew scurrying back and forth from its bow to midship.

“Nothing heard,” I said, lapsing into formal radiospeak despite my anything-but-formal fears. Joe left the cockpit and hung off the stern and began shouting, “Gil! Gil!” Then he put his fingers in his mouth and whistled loudly. (I had no idea he could do that.) About that time, the shrimp boat's engine rumbled to life. Its captain must have slammed its one engine into reverse, because it quickly moved away from Gil’s and our boat.

The large vessel’s engine sputtered and died once but restarted quickly and its captain nimbly steered it toward its dock. I collapsed on my seat and Joe returned to the cockpit. Weakly, I asked, “You want the radio back on?”

“Nah,” Joe replied. “You were right. It was a good idea to turn it off.”

Our last day in that neighborhood, we paid $20 to the marina so I could wash clothes and Joe could scrub the decks and top off our water tank. I had hoped to watch a few DVDs, but the office shut down the electricity. The internet was off all day. The next morning, we re-provisioned at Eldon’s Supermarket and quickly left the funky-smelling marina. I had asked the office for a discount because of the poor service and he discounted our fee by four dollars. The good news is, the Roatan Yacht Club may have new ownership in 2008 and perhaps conditions will improve.

Laundry DayBut we did save money, because – fasten your seat belts – laundry service in the Bay Islands costs $10 USD per load, and the average mesh laundry bag holds what would be equal to 2-3 washer loads. Yikes! As we motored out of the anchorage area, some Canadian cruising friends took photos of our boat because I had hung wet laundry on every available lifeline plus four lines Joe had strung from the mast to the jib. I laughed and waved at our friends as we left, shouting, “The Clampetts come to Roatan!” All we needed was a rocking chair on the deck, because I’m sure that our boat looked like a Beverly Hillbillies version of a sailboat.

Our next Roatan anchorage was French Harbor, and I was relieved to have clean Caribbean waters under our boat again. Behind the reef, the entry into the harbor is dotted with shoals, so careful navigation is required. Joe got slightly off course and we ran aground (according to me). According to him, we “bumped a shoal.” But we floated off it immediately and dropped anchor at 16°21.26N and 086°26.62W.

The next morning, I packed up my laptop and snorkeling gear and we dinghied to Fantasy Island Resort. Now, this is my idea of paradise! The property is a lush, all-inclusive tropical resort with pristine white sand beaches leading to crystal-clear water. With six dive boats, the international guests of Fantasy Island can pick a dive most suited to their level of expertise. Monkeys and interesting little animals called “guatuzas” roam the property. The monkeys are semi-tame and will pose for photos if you offer them a packet of sugar, but the guatuzas are nervous and territorial; we called them “rabbit-rats” because that’s what they most resemble. A charming swimming pool beckoned, but the free internet was my first priority. As I settled into a cushioned chair, Caribbean music from the cheerful lobby bar provided the perfect setting for emailing my tropical updates to friends and family.

Fantasy Island Resort on the island of Roatan is very cruiser-friendly.

Our 37th wedding anniversary was December 21, 2007. Joe and I hung a copy of our marriage license in the galley and agreed that of our entire thirty-seven years together, the ones spent as cruisers have been wonderful and magical. Later that morning, a man in a longboat motored up and offered fresh lobster for sale. We decided lobster would make for the perfect anniversary dinner, so we bought some, sautéed it in garlic and our unrefrigerated margarine, then served it atop fresh carrots, zucchini and potatoes. Our dessert was fruit cocktail. What a terrific meal!

But the best part of that particular anniversary was that it took place in our beloved boat, at anchor in the romantic Caribbean Sea. We were sure the best was yet to come.

Read Part 2:  The Honduras Bay Island of Roatan

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