Panama to Honduras, January 2006

The sail from Porvenir to Providencia was a rollicking good ride. We left Panama at sunset with just enough light to see the waves breaking on the reef, and headed north. The wind was just forward of the beam, and Zora (and Mandolin, who was sailing with us) fairly flew along at hull speed. By the next morning we had the remote Columbian island of Providencia, our landfall, in site. Unfortunately it took all day, beating into the wind, to make the harbor on the northwest side, but we were in before dark, and well before the approaching cold front hit. Our Swiss friends on Haxebase, and our Dutch friends on Topaz, were already in the harbor.

Providencia was a neat island: small enough to drive around in a half hour or so, with steep green hills and an interesting, friendly population of English speakers. The culture has more to do with nearby Belize or the Cayman islands or Jamaica than it does Columbia. Although the officials (from the mainland) are Spanish-speaking South American Columbians, the majority of the locals are descendants of the ex-slaves and pirates, and are now bilingual. Providencia wasn't really a destination for us, just a stop-over, but we enjoyed our visit there. We took the local transportation (back of a pick-up truck) around the island, joined by some cruisers we met aboard Adalante, and two Columbian girls.

One day the Port Captain, a very nice Columbian man, invited all of the yachties to a pot-luck party at his house. There were seven or eight boats in the harbor, including Haxebase, Topaz, Adalante, Solveig, and Mandolin (that's Mike and Tina, below) and we had a great time. Liv ran around with Jan and David from Haxebase, and we all ate and listened to music played by cruisers and locals. 

We were anxious to be on our way to the Vivorillo Cays, though, where we had heard the fishing was excellent. We had to wait for a cold front and high winds to pass, and then we were on our way, again screaming along at 7+ knots, this time off the wind.

The Vivorillo Cays are a collection of three small islands behind a barrier reef, just off Cabo Gracias a Dios, the northeast tip ("the corner") of Honduras. Columbus named the cape ("Thanks be to God") after finally rounding it in the horrible weather normally encountered there. Luckily, we had the wind and waves with us, and we timed our passage between cold fronts. There are no cruising guides that have information on this area, and the charts are pretty pathetic, based on information hundreds of years old. We had to sail through the reef-strewn waters at night, and it was a little bit scary. The reefs rarely have any land above water that shows on radar, and we were unsure how far off the charts were. Luckily, we had waypoints from a boat that had just come through the other direction, so we were knew if we followed that path we'd be unlikely to hit anything. Surprisingly, for such a desolate stretch of water, there were lots of other boats around: shrimp boats!! These shallow waters (50-150 feet in most places) are a major shrimping ground, and there were big trawlers everywhere. They used the Vivorillo Cays as an anchoring spot, as we found out when we arrived the next morning. Feeling our way in behind the reef, we first anchored away from the 4 or 5 trawlers, up by the northern island. It was inhabited only by birds: brown- and red-footed boobies, terns, and Magnificent Frigate Birds (Man-O-War birds). The males were in breeding display, with their apple-red throat pouches puffed out like huge balloons. It was a spectacular sight.

We were slightly nervous: there were 5-year-old reports of sailboats being robbed in this area, and we were very remote. But that afternoon, the family of fishermen who lived on the one island with a house on it came by, and they were very friendly. We traded some rum and cigarettes for an enormous bag of lobster tails. They warned us that, with the approaching cold front, the anchorage might get rocky, and suggested we move to the southeast of the last island. Well, we thought we were tucked up close enough to the north island to be comfortable; and it seemed weird to anchor SE of an island, which in normal conditions would be an open lee shore. By dawn, however, we realized we should have taken his advice. Although it looked protected on the chart, some combination of shallow reef and the NNE wind caused the high waves to wrap nastily into our anchorage: Zora was bucking in the 3-4 foot chop, and it seemed like the entire shrimp fleet had returned and anchored in the spot the fisherman had recommended! We quickly upped anchor and headed that way ourselves. It WAS more protected, but the holding was terrible. The huge shrimper next to us dragged 60 feet or so before his anchor caught again! Luckily, by afternoon the blow was over, and we moved to a better anchorage. Before we did, though, some jolly shrimp fishermen rowed over and traded us 5 lbs of fresh shrimp for a few chocolate bars: YUM! Here's a picture of Zora anchored with the shrimpers, and one of Liv with some of the shrimp: see how windy it is!

We lucked out, then, and had a couple of days of settled, sunny weather. Neil got to try out his new speargun in a very fertile hunting ground. He caught some absolutely enormous Dog Snappers (which he gave to the fishermen) and Hog fish (our favorite: yum!) Liv found some good shelling sites, too. After a few idyllic days there alone, our friends on Haxebase and Mandolin arrived from Providencia; unfortunately so did another cold front! We soon headed to Guanaja, the easternmost of Honduras's Bay Islands.

Next: to the Bay Islands of Honduras