Utila at Night and a Captain’s Charter


Night Rides

“It’s nice to have someone to experience this with.  In 30 years, it’s gonna be nice to talk about this with someone.”  I say this to Oba as we ride under the new-moon black sky on the unstable dinghy from the bar back to the sailboat.  The low bass beats from two adjacent dance clubs, reaching their sounds way past their long wood plank docks, trail behind the hum-stutters of the outboard motor.
The stars give faint silhouettes to our neighbor boats.  Pinhole diamonds are our only guide since the moon is hidden far below the horizon.
Chilly droplets splash Oba and I every ten seconds as we bounce easily over the steady ripples of the bay.  This town isn’t wild, but it is cool.  Every day there is a drink special in at least one of the dozen bars on the main drag.  The cast is basically the same and newcomers become allies on the escape from the routines of life.  Conversations meander through small crowds and the night vanishes like a stiff drink.  I am happy to ride with Oba through the charcoal darkness back to our floating home in the bay.
(Holds the boat together)
(Holds the boat)
(Use Caution)
(Do Not Use Caution)
(Old houses)
(Their views)
Night Crawlers
My old buddies!  I’m pretty stoked/terrified to be sharing shadows with Central American wildlife again.  Ok, so everyone agrees a 5 inch diameter tarantula is a cute fur ball, but some of these guys are not so cute.  I’ve only seen a scorpion of about 3 inches long so far.  My friend Tiffini accidentally stepped on one 6 inches long in her kitchen and and said it was “beautiful”.  The deliberate stroll of shiny armor, raised pinchers, and a poised stinger does not give me the warm and fuzzy feeling.
Banana spiders are just cool and all over the Jade Seahorse, an artist’s dream-turned-reality spanning a hilly two acres and completely covered with intricate designs and architecture.  It’s 20 years of carpentry, tunneling concrete, random vertical tile work, and every bizarre, durable object conceivable, fastened in life-size Alice In Wonderland patterns.
Crabs cross-criss the streets at night, jousting with oncoming dirt bikes and golf carts.  I don’t know if they are standing their ground out of bravery or trying to be invisible.  Neither plan seems to be working.
Even with the addition of some common wolf spiders and sand flies, the island isn’t that scary.  It doesn’t take long to get used to their appearance and the fact that they are trying much harder to get away from us than the other way around.  There are also iguanas, which only come out in the daytime and another world of nocturnal underwater hunters.
(Some of the scariest things aren’t scary at all)
Night Walks
A boy of about 5 rides by me on a Big-Wheel, rolling his head back like Ray Charles, looking around at the world.  The sun went down 2 or 3 hours ago, and the only adult I see around is a woman trailing about 15 seconds behind on foot.
Bicycles, dirt bikes, tuk-tuks, and 4-wheelers pass me on whichever side is convenient as I make my way up the windy concrete road.  About half of the vehicles have lights; the others and I rely on silhouettes created by shop lights and the rare green glow of street lamps.
It’s not unusual to see divers and locals with a joint in their mouth or behind the ear.
The local economy is based primarily on diving instruction. Divers are pretty chill.  So is the island.  The culture is somewhere between paradise and a shot of tequila.
I’m leaving my friend’s restaurant and heading to a bar called Babalu’s to meet my brother, Oba, and other friends for a drink.  The island has only three expensive items: restaurant food (except baliadas and pastillas), bar drinks, and diving.  These are still cheaper than most places in the world.  The thing with this island is normally people drink either zero drinks or they drink 10.  I’ve been averaging about $25/day.  That’s cheap for the U.S., but expensive for Central America.
First Charter
Captain Steve (he received a confirmation email and is officially El Capitan) had his first Charter.  Passengers: Tiffany, Danna, Amy, Will, Rory, and Dom.  Steve, Oba, and I crewed the boat while the others fished and held on for the wild ride.
The sea was somewhere between rough and really damn rough.  The boat took some crashing waves on its beam and bow that I don’t think I’ve ever seen.  The center of gravity for a floating object must be below the waterline (more specifically the center of pressure) to achieve stability.  With nine people on board, the boat had an extra 1300 pounds on it’s deck (roughly 4 feet above the water line).  She was rolled more dramatically in the waves.
The boat ride lasted close to 5 hours and one passenger was sick.  Next time it will be half as long and not nearly as rough.
The payment: loaded sandwiches made from homemade sourdough, tropical drinks, and two cartons of eggs.
Scattered rum bottles, broken sunglasses, and plastic cups produced the aftermath of a fraternity party ambushed by pirates.  Great success!
(Banana pudding is up there with southern biscuits and NY pizza)

Utila and Rectangles

Soft living

Soft living

The Bay Islands were visited by Christopher Columbus in 1502.  He gave his usual warm welcome  by capturing locals and selling them into slavery for agriculture and mining.  For the next few hundred years, the islands were occupied by French, British, and Dutch pirates as well as Spanish conquistadores.  During these centuries, escaped slaves of various origins married into Honduran families as a form of refuge.  Along with the European influx, the Mayans (Paya) were pushed out and transformed, leaving a new hybrid culture of light skinned, light eyed locals with new dialects of Spanish and English that is still prominent today.  A born and raised local explained some of this history to Steve and I in perfect English with a Hispanic-Irish sounding accent.  It was quite peculiar.

Boat Profile

The boat made is enjoying a break from the waves in this almost entirely protected harbor.  The Bay Islands are part of the 2nd largest coral reef in the world extending down from Belize.  Reef means shallow which means protection from big waves.  Only steady wind from the Southwest will cause the harbor to rock.  That or a hurricane, which do come from time to time.  There is a nice hurricane hole made of mangroves accessible from the bay.

Utila Dingy

We dinghy into various waterfront bars (<5minute kayak paddle) or Bush’s grocery store / boxing gym as shown above.  The locals are used to tourism as provided by the many many diving schools.  I found some local restaurant people to hang out with and take a break from the boat.  Overall the island is pretty cheap with meals ranging from $3-$8, beer for $2, and rum drinks for about $1.50.

Pleasant walks to the beach take about 10 minutes and we also have our folding bikes which barely survived the rust from being on the ocean a week.  I ride the bike everywhere, and since the island is only about the size of Key West (2×4 miles) I can be anywhere in no time.


The rectangle is a human invention. There are none in nature that I can think of. There are nearly perfect spheres (bubbles, planets) and other curves (rainbows, swaying grass, etc.).

Calculus uses right angles to approximate area and volume about smooth curves. This is close, but not entirely accurate. It’s as if the human mind is not equipped to see the actual world, only a filtered mathematical interpretation of what’s really there. Kinda makes me think I’m a computer program.

“He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.” – Samuel Johnson


Beauty and clarity


Sailing to Guatemala

Leaving Dock KW

The first day came and went like lamb and lion. The boat leaves the fuel docks of Key West at a leisurely pace and the point of sail is so perfect that we stay on the same tack for the entire night. But with constant wind direction, the seas begin to build. As I write this it feels like I’m in a giant shoe box rolling down an endless rocky hill. The shelves occasionally toss their goods at the boat’s floor. The crew is now on sleepy shifts holding the tiller in line with the following waves. The wind is strong enough now that we only need the medium sized jib. Flying the main would lead to dangerous jibes and lethal boom action.

It’s now the end of my sleep shift. The full moon guided Steve and Oba for the last 6 hours. Day is breaking now. The autopilot is engaged, so I’m going to make some coffee and get to work.


Day 2 Sucks

Even running to grab the laptop makes me nauseated. Bouncing around the v-berth, listening to the awful clanging of the halyard on the mast and the wind howling through the sail (still too much running and waves for the main), all I want to do is close my eyes. So I’m typing with them closed.

I am going to sound like a baby, but I don’t care. My thigh hurts from where the anchor pinched a cute little hole in my leg. My knee feels like a raw scab (later to be infected, but managed when back on land) that I haven’t even taken time to look at yet. My teeth still taste gross from the stomach acid / grits that came up to say they missed me this morning while I was riding the bow like a rollercoaster to fill up water jugs. I’m not sure which is more comforting: the dull smack of more than a ton of water on the wall next to me or the smashing of power tool bags leaving shelves in the salon behind me.

The good news: it could be worse. The bad news: it might get worse. Oranges are the only thing I can easily keep down today and thank Oba, we have a lot. It’s getting dark now and I was in the cockpit since sunrise, so I’m gonna see if I can get some sleep. We’ll be rounding the tip of Cuba tomorrow. I do hope it’s a smoother ride on the other side.

Day 3

The sun is shining and the water a luscious blue. Cruising along at about 6 knots, we approach some tall, fluffy weather systems. We were able to fly the mainsail this morning, but now drop it at the sight of possible squalls and ride once again with only the jib.

Before entering the gloomy system, a bright yellow finch-looking bird lands on our cockpit. Within a couple of minutes he flies in the boat and lands on Steve’s head. Then Dubie snags him out of mid air and he plays dead for a moment before regaining his enthusiasm. Later that night, I dig around the closet for my pancho (gift from Boots and Nail) and rouse our new bird. He joined us around Cabo San Antonio, and the last place I saw Tony was in the V-berth when I slid into bed around 1:30AM.

Day 4

Wet with mild wind. Each time we begin un-reefing the main, the wind picks up. We are past the tip of Cuba, moving just east of south. We will aim to maintain this track for about 60 more miles or 12-15 hours before heading toward the Bay Islands of Honduras.

The crew is fully in a groove, slumped around the soggy, cluttered boat, watching the days get longer and more boring.

– An Injury –
Well actually a lot of injuries. It turns out I am quite prone to getting myself hurt.

Before we even left, I was holding the anchor on the pull-pit, I carelessly let it slip and pinch my leg. Rusty + 45 lbs = ouch. I also broke my little toe on my left foot. If you’ve never broken a toe tripping over the tiller, there’s really nothing you can do but tape it to the adjacent one and wear shoes.

The first two days it was cold and wet and the night watch distracted my pea-brain so I passed out without first changing clothes. Now I have two mild-to-bad infections, the anchor pinch and a big pimple on my knee which is full of puss and giving me a fever. My instincts told me to cook mashed potatoes with canned veggies on the side.

Building the trust in my subconscious (or superconscious?) is tricky after not listening for the past 6 months. Working too much leaves little energy and focus for that faint but pure voice. My body gets round one. If I wake up with a fever, it’s time for tetracycline antibiotics.

About an hour later I decide to try the antibiotics. Then I start getting really paranoid that the handwritten dosage and FOR ANIMALS ONLY label might do me more harm than good. Clean socks soaked in boiled salt water do a pretty good job of keeping the subcutaneous fluid from hardening. I used this method for an earring infection. Coupled with half-decent nutrition, I am confident my body would disperse of the foreign civilization taking advantage of my weakened economy. The wound will take a few more days to heal, but the serious risks have been managed.

[ * * * The infection actually got worse and instead of constantly trying a new trick of the day, I just kept the surface as clean and dry as possible, as recommended by Steve. I should have squeezed the puss out of this giant pimple-looking mountain, but the pain was such that it felt like a bad idea and I didn’t want to send anything deeper into my body. * * * ]

Day 5

Last night was our first experience in the trade winds. This is what I scribbled on a spiral notebook, half asleep in the dark:

~ ~ ~ I keep waiting for the boat to break in half. Fiberglass creaks like crickets. Water rushes by the hull like a tunnel in the Hoover Dam. Wind is staying 20 knots plus. These are the tradewinds. This is the Caribbean Expressway. ~ ~ ~

Every now and then the boat lurches upwards and slams down on a wave or two, creating a constant gravitational field through the lower starboard walls. Everything shifts ceaselessly toward this edge of the boat and half of the contents are tethered to or balancing on a ledge on the opposite side. Dubious finds comfort wedging his frame against the walls of the hallway.

Stove Gimble

The stainless steel stove/oven gimbles at a 30 degree angle and is the only visual evidence of how much the boat is heeling. As I type this, I am being pressed against a wooden shelf. It’s like laying on a stick and having your weight added and subtracted every 2-5 seconds.

The mashed potatoes were a nutritional hit, so I ask my superconscious what else I’m lacking. Bread. Biscuits are voted, but I make no space for expansion and the batch ends up doughey and bland. Luckily you can’t mess up eggs and country gravy from a packet.

We’re less than 200 miles from Utila now. The tradewinds are named this because of their historical utility. It’s too bad we don’t generate power from Old Faithful. I guess tourism money counts in a way. We’ve made 4.5 to 6.5 knots and haven’t touched the sails or Otto (Our German navigator. He’s very strong! {read in a German accent}) in a day and a half. At this rate, we’ll be sailing up to the Bay Islands sometime tomorrow night.


Day 6

Our use of humor has been one of the most useful tool on this journey and this should be noted and applied to all journeys.

The examples of stress traps are silly and minuscule. A book and pillow were left in the rain. Someone caught rainwater for drinking in a bucket where a fish had been bled out. A can of sweet tea was saved until the last day and it became a debate of communism vs. private property. Anytime a small group of people are locked together for days and days, an erruption of frustration becomes increasingly imminent. We joke at every opportunity, not because anything is particularly funny, but to keep the mood as light as possible. It is a sort of self-preservation instinct and an indicator of true unhappiness. The alternative would be to scrutinize every event and succumb to the frigid realization that in the middle of a giant body of water only two types of beings exist: quick ones and dead ones.

On a brighter note, we found the ramen noodles last night, so it’s easy cooking from here on out!


Day 7

Looking at the pictures of the past seven days, I realize something. I’ve been focused most of this trip on how horribly uncomfortable it has been. The pictures spark that reminiscent feeling. Every detail resonates with a story. It’s as if this trip wasn’t about enjoying it at the time. Keeping in touch with the memories will be the true benefit.

Oba mentions wanting to read a book on sailing which I recommended at the beginning of the trip. Now at the end of the trip, he is asking very basic questions about the mainsail. My reaction is to be frustrated at his false show of interest. As I’m typing this, a book on sailing knots falls on me. Steve has always been frustrated that I won’t learn more knots. I’m a hypocrite if I believe someone should learn something they’re not interested in. Maybe this principle can be extrapolated…

We decide to make our first stop Utila, Honduras. It’s the cheapest dive mecca in the Carribean and we don’t pay anything to check in to the country.

This week I’ll be taking photos and writing about the island. I’ll figure out how to put them together on this new app so I can post them for you next Saturday.