Danger In Paradise Part 1

Following are our journal entries from the time we spent in the magical Vivarillos and Cayo Becerro off the coast of Honduras. We stopped at these isolated reefs on our passage from the Quita Sueno Banks off of Nicaragua to Guanaja, Honduras. Grab your drink and kick back to enjoy.

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Still underway. Originally, we said that we were going to sail slow and heave-to if necessary because we were sailing almost directly downwind and are at the mercy of the wind going light. During the night, Scott started the motor and then had reservations the entire time that it was running. We caught up to and passed Sunbow – the boat that passed us in the dark when we were rounding the Media Luna bank. We decided we could make it in the daylight, so we motored on.

We had a dozen dolphins come and swim along with us for over an hour. There was even a small baby cruising with its mama. Scott reached down and touched one of them. We got into Vivarillos and anchored at 4pm. What a strange place this is. We are completely alone here. The jury is still out on whether it is safe here.

Swam up to the shore where there are hundreds of wooden lobster pots stacked up like giant bricks and also hundreds of leathery shark remains rotting on the beach. The stench is overwhelming. There were some large nurse sharks and hammerheads amongst others. 40 million sharks are killed every year for their fins alone – National Geographic April 2007. Frigates are flying high and terns are screeching everywhere. I think we are going to just crash hard tonight.

Thursday, May 20th

Nausicaa was found. There has been a boat watch for the last three days for our friend Alberto who is seventy years old and single handing. Apparently, he left Linton with five other boats and hadn’t been in contact with anyone for a few days. We heard this morning that he made it in to Providencia and he was very seasick. His autopilot broke and he had to hand steer the entire way. No wonder he was sick, it was really rough out there still.

With that mystery solved, we put the dink in the water and I put Scott up the mast for pictures. Went up to the island and found some really cool looking shark vertebrae to make a necklace with. I think I need to bleach them first to get rid of the nasty smell.

The wind is picking back up and this spot is getting a little bit rolly. We were listening to the 5:45pm Northwest Caribbean check-ins on the SSB and the boats heading this way aren’t even using the VHF because they are afraid of people listening and coming to attack them. Funny thing is, I put the boat in stealth mode – turned off all navigation lights- near the Media Luna Banks because I saw fishing boats and got nervous in the wee hours. Something happened there and now everyone is afraid.

Just before sunset, we sat and watched the fish in a feeding frenzy. Bonita, mackerel and jacks fly out of the water in large arcs while the birds swoop down for their own piece of the action. The frigates glide in so close to us that their wings sound like a kite about to crash next to you. They are so majestic looking. They seem as though they can fly forever without flapping their wings.

Friday, May 21st

Went snorkeling out at scruffy corner of the reef. The water looked much clearer today, but I think 3pm Honduran time was too late for a snorkel since it is really 4pm EST – FEEDING TIME. The water was fairly clear, but still had a bit of a hazy creep factor to it.

Incredible coral glades of every shape, type, color and size — elk-horn, stag-horn. Dozens of yellow damsels, a chain eel, and tons of curious fish swimming right up to our masks. I felt like I couldn’t shoot them and I didn’t. Kim had the hee-bee-gee-bees. Me too.

Kim: Just after I saw 12 huge permits coming towards us, Scott bumped my leg – I thought he did it to make sure that I saw them, but he missed them. He was staring down at the strange porgie changing colors down on the sandy bottom that I had been looking at earlier. We swam a little further and I told him, “I wish it were a little clearer – it sure has a bit of creep factor.” He replied with, “Just try to keep a look-out.” Not one minute later, we both spot the huge sand tiger shark sitting right on the surface before us. I scrambled to get Scott’s manliness between me and the shark.

Scott: The shark was almost standing still, not zooming by like the typical reef shark. His back was like a mountain. His face was wide. He slowly turned to look at us. Kim grabbed me and tried to hide behind me. Gee, thanks dear. That was just what I was going to do. We slowly paddled backwards while watching his gaping mouth full of gnarly teeth and large beady eyes. I was swearing through my snorkel. We slowly made our way back to the dinghy, which seemed to be a mile away, and thankfully, we didn’t see the shark again.

Sunday May 23rd

Sitting up in bed at 3:30am wondering, should I be collecting? It has been raining for more than 24 hours and it is now a torrential downpour. Funneling and pouring, scrubbing and shivering, we greeted the big drops like gold coins from the heavens. The oily water running off of my forehead stung my eyes as it ran in my face. We are now completely refilled: 150 gallons! Now we can stay here forever!

Kim: It was time to get some fish. Right when I jumped in there was a nice sized hogfish. Scott didn’t want to kill him, but I made him. That way, we could just relax and snorkel without worrying about sharks and bloodied water. It was an instant 4 meals, but there were dozens of giant hogfish, snappers and porgies. Watched giants come to the cleaning station only a few feet in front of us. The hogfish crunch on golf ball sized shells they pick off the bottom around the edges of the reef.

I was getting cold so I went back to get the dink while Scott swam on. Three folks in a dink showed up from the boats that had just arrived. It was Jack and Nicole from Kittyhawk and Derek off of Celtic Dancer. We floated and chatted for a long stretch and then agreed to get together for dinner.

At dinner, we learned where all of the fear stems from in these parts. Jack, who is Honduran, told us stories about Media Luna Reef that I was glad we didn’t know beforehand, although we had talked about stopping there. This past October a boat was boarded by a bunch of guys with machine guns and the boat was stripped while they were passing the reef underway. Also, a Chilean family was attacked here years ago. The Dad killed, son shot, but lived, Mom raped. Ugh. I hate hearing these stories. So it makes me a little nervous to be sitting here still. The theory is that the thugs wait in Media Luna to move the drugs, but they don’t come here – less than 50 miles away. Media Luna is Nicaragua, and we are in Honduran waters. That’s what we’ve been told anyways.

May 24th

We had a tired late morning. Kim didn’t want to go back over to Jaws-ville, so we went out in front of the boat to snorkel in the shallows behind the reef. We found a small channel through the reef to the depths on the outside, so we slithered through and paddled out past the break zone. The bottom was covered with swaying purple sea fans and lonely orange elkhorns stood like ornamental shrubbery. The schools of fish ebbed back and forth with the passing swell. We swam out further until the bottom dropped away out of sight. Laser beams of sunlight flicked all around like disco lights into the abyss all around us. What was out here? Was there something lurking? With thoughts of the big shark we encountered, we decided to swim back in through the cut in the break.

The swell had grown a little bit and carefully plotting our course towards where we thought the cut should be, our chins and chests glided just inches above the thick rippling sheets of fire coral lining the channel. It was hair raising. Waves were breaking on either side of the ten foot wide two foot deep channel. “Hope we timed this right” was all I could think of as we coasted through to safety.

Enough of swimming in the shark zone. Once again, at Kim’s request, we hung a right and swam through the shallow 3 foot deep sandy coral gardens behind the reef. The maze of stony purple pagodas, was chock full of rainbow sea life. Awesome! We inspected some red and purple pencil urchins closely in our hands. Little beaks poking out of red snouts. Wiggly blue tendrils with tiny suction cups searching for a hold.

Found one coral pagoda loaded so thick with clusters of fish that eyes and scales dominated our vision. They were all clustered around a single purple relic of an elkhorn as if it were an umbrella to shade them from the sun. Snappers, white grunts, blue and black tangs, giant blue parrots, rainbow parrots. They all came right up to our face in big clusters of googly eyed curiosity. I picked up an urchin and held it out in a little plastic cone that had washed back from the wreck at the front of the reef. The snappers were the first curious ones. They were all googling at me with their dark eye bands flashing on and off. White grunts flared their dorsal spikes like stylish mohawks. Suddenly, my trance was broken as something glided into my peripheral vision. I was staring into a cute little tawny nurse sharks wavering gill flaps. He was only about 4 feet long, but only inches from my face mask, he looked like a monster! I had a near heart attack as he poked his nose down at the thorny treat in my hand!

Back at the boat listened again to the oil spill news on the SSB. It is hard not to. Every morning we hear the fishermen up in Gulf talking on the Side Band about what is coming their way. Something horrible. That is for sure. It makes us ill with grief to listen to it, but we can’t turn away. In a world hell-bent on self-annihilation, veiled under the selfish guise of optimism and talk of a “healthy economy.” Always speaking of providence for future generations. Generations who will be starved by their parents limitless squandering of natural resources and the ignorance of the true necessities of a healthy planet. It is hard to turn away. So we listen.

For some ungodly reason, we listened to Rush Limbaugh chortle on. According to Rush, the “non-disaster” is a “hoax being perpetrated by a bunch of environmentalist extremist wackos” who are really nothing more than “displaced Communists trying to create panic and chaos and live off of it.” “There is no evidence of a disaster.” “Another example of leftist malpractice.” “The Whitehouse is keeping people away from the coast because there just isn’t any oil there.” “There is no evidence of a disaster.” – Apparently, he is doing the washing.

It makes me sad to think that lots of Americans are actually listening to this, but I can imagine that by now, most people are simply tired of hearing about this horrible mess they’ve gotten themselves into. The link between healthy economy and healthy planet seems to be only advertising cliché because already America is again trying to forget its horrible condition. Stoned and in a TV trance.

I sat drinking a coffee on the deck and thought about Lee and Wendy on Worldwide Traveler. I was really wondering where they were at. We had last seen them in the Rio Chagres in Panama back on April 27th – the day after my birthday. Some squall lines were rolling in and a gorgeous rainbow tumbled downward until it seemed to be lighting up the reef before us. Twenty minutes later, I spied a catamaran heading our way from the east. No way. “Get the binocs!” I yelled to Kim. It was Worldwide Traveler!

After they had anchored up nearby, we swam over to say hello. The sun was setting as we exchanged our stories. Behind us, the sky filled with the most incredible hues of orange and red that I have ever seen. Another rainbow formed to the east as we exchanged our stories since we had last seen each other. It was like pure magic in the sky. We heard about some more jungle adventures and we told them about what we had seen on the reef. As we talked, both Kim and I struggled with wild thoughts about trying to make it back to the boat for the camera. The sunset was so unreal, but the occasion trumped the need for a picture.

Later that night, I was back up on the deck looking around. There is nothing like being anchored on shallow sand flats with a full moon. The water glows like a swimming pool. I think we will stay here for a while longer.

In the morning, Lee and Wendy pulled anchor for points west. They were picking up guests in Roatan in a few days. We were sad to see them go, but we looked forward to trading great stories with them in the future.

May 27th, 2010

We were relieved to see Nausicaa pull in and anchor. We had been getting a little bit worried about how Alberto was doing all by himself out there. Yesterday, Kim had even called up a big Coast Guard AWAK plane that we spied with the binocs flying in broad circles. She asked them if they could keep an eye out. We speculated that they were out there looking for the escaped drug lord who was supposedly due to be extradited to the US from Jamaica and was still at large somewhere in the area. They said they would call us back if they saw him. We never did hear back from them, but we were happy that they at least acknowledged us.

The last time Kim called up an AWAK that gave us two fly-bys in Nicaragua, we didn’t get such a friendly response. We would like to think that since our boat is US Coast Guard registered, that we are in the club, but the last time we called hoping to get a little bit of weather info since we were all alone out on the Quita Sueno Bank, they only would reply, “Just pretend that you never saw us here.” Gee, thanks guys. I would have felt better if they just ignored us and didn’t answer. More American tax dollars hard at work.

We motored over to where Alberto had anchored in the deep. He looked dead tired. The end of the trip had been glassy calm for him, but since his autopilot was broken, he had to hand steer the whole way by himself. Additionally, his hydraulic system had some sort of leak so he had to turn the wheel completely around several times in either direction before it would grab on the rudder. “You don’t want to buy this boat?” He asked us. “Maybe I can help you fix it,” I said.  As we spoke, we watched shark fins cutting through the surface nearby. Yikes!

As he climbed down into the lazarette to monkey with the autopilot again, he explained that the word lazarette means leper colony in Italian. We tinkered for a little bit, but he didn’t really want to mess around any more with his broken system until he could get some professional help. Oh well. Hopefully, the fresh bread Kim baked him got his spirits up a bit. At least he only had one more segment ~100 miles to go before he got to some kind of civilization. Well, the Settlement in Guanaja anyways. He was badly in need of a rest.

After bidding Alberto fare well, we pulled anchor and headed out to another nearby reef by Cayo Becerro. The shallow reef looked like an aquarium below us as we motored along. Below the glassy surface, I watched a sea turtle coast along with us.  TO BE CONTINUED… .. .           

** UPDATE: 100 million sharks are being killed every year – National Geographic June 2016. Most sharks are caught only to have their fins cut off and thrown back still alive, to sink to the bottom for a slow horrible death.**

Photograph by Antony Dickson, AFP/Getty Images

It is sad to see the shark populations plummeting. As much as I don’t enjoy having them sneak up on us, they are majestic creatures that have our respect. Hopefully it isn’t too late to turn this devastation around.

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