Sailing to Central America in 2008

Bright and early the next morning we raised the anchors ready to head south across the Bay of Honduras to Guatemala and the Rio Dulce. If you look at a large scale chart for this area, you notice it is wide open to the southeast trade winds with not a whole lot of landmass to break any big ocean swells. Well, the Gulf was absolutely flat with nary a breath of air that day. There was plenty of time to navigate, read, take photos, sunbathe, or sleep. As we approached Guatemala, we noticed a heavy haze covering the entire horizon, and soon we realized it was smoke blanketing the earth and the sea. Sometime later we were told everyone burns their trash, and the forestry services burn after they slash- cut the hillsides. If there is no wind blowing, the smoke just stifles you. Unfortunately, many of our early photos are taken on smoky days, and they lack the clear blue skies we saw most of the time. Off to the right is smoky Kashmir approaching Cabo Tres Puntas, the northern shore of Guatemala where we anchored for our first night waiting for the morning tide.

Crossing the Bay of Honduras with Kashmir
Crossing the Bay of Honduras with Kashmir

The bay’s waters shoaled gradually so we pulled in close to shore pretty well protected from winds to the north, east, and south east, but open to the south and west. Holding seemed good, and we had lots of room so there was no worry. The homes along the shore were all neat, well-kept beach front properties, but we couldn’t tell if they were permanent homes or vacation cottages. There were boats, canoes, and jet skis with quite a bit of activity all afternoon and evening. At one point I heard someone talking on the VHF about two boats anchored at Tres Puntas, in Spanish of course, and they wanted to be sure the guard knew we were there. No worries on that score. Our first night in Guatemala was quiet and reasonably cool, no excitement, no anchors dragging, no pirates – almost downright boring. There were absolutely no lights at night in this part of the world except our two anchor lights. We assumed electricity was non-existent.

Anchored in Cabo Tres Puntas
Anchored in Cabo Tres Puntas

Kashmir took this photo of Ocean Angel crossing the bar at the entrance to the Rio Dulce. The town of Livingston sits off to the right, once again shrouded in smoke. We found the entrance buoy easily and about 45 minutes before high tide began sniffing our way across the shallow water. Depths over the bar are reported to be 5 and 1/2 feet at low tide, and we had a good high tide rising so we were pretty confident that we would cross with no problems. We offered to go in first knowing that if we got stuck somewhere, Kashmir might be able to pull us back off. We never touched bottom though the water seemed somewhat shallower than predicted. There’s talk of dredging the entrance somewhere down the road to try to open the port of Livingston once again to commercial ship traffic. Presently, the town is slowly dying as the only access is by small boat; no roads in or out of town.

Crossing the Bar in Livingston
Crossing the Bar in Livingston

We anchored just a little up river from the town docks planning to avoid any ferries or commercial traffic, but we might as well have anchored right next to the dock as boat traffic was confined to very small lanchas, or taxi boats. They zipped around all day and we would not have been any kind of obstacle to them. So we had a slightly longer dinghy ride than necessary to the town dock. First though, all the town’s officials had to come to inspect our boats. Work begins at 09:00, and since we’d had no delays crossing the bar, we waited awhile for them to arrive in their lancha. If I remember correctly, there were perhaps 7 or 8 of them in the boat, four officials, one Agent, the lancha driver, and one of the official’s sons. All were smartly dressed in uniform, and they nimbly climbed onto our boat as the Agent made introductions for each official as they boarded. We had to sign a few forms and receive instructions on the order of clearing in. The process was very orderly and efficient, and the on-shore visits went exactly as we were promised with no requests for gratuities and no harassment of any sort. Each official did his or her very best to make us feel welcome to the country of Guatemala and the city of Livingston.

Anchored Near Downtown Livingston
Anchored Near Downtown Livingston

Livingston is a fairly small city as you can see on the street map behind Darnell. You can walk from one end of town to the other in about 15 minutes. A guide sort of inserted himself into our group and directed us from one office to the next. Of course, he knew the town and its history well, so we received not only a guided tour, but a brief history of Guatemala and Livingston as well. Still today, Livingston is a completely segregated city. Our guide said “the blacks and the Guatemalans share absolutely nothing except the hospital clinic. Separate schools, housing and so on.” When we were done with officialdom we stopped at a store, picked up a few items, drinks especially, and our guide refused to allow us to carry anything heavy. He hoisted the cases onto his back and off we headed back to the dock. Once we were loaded into the dinghy, I offered the man about Q50 for all his help; he refused. He said “Please donate it instead to the fund for our black library. We do not have one. Or give us books you may have finished.” This man was as kind and soft-spoken as anyone I have ever met. So I asked him to please take the money and place it in their library fund as I did not know where to donate. Sometimes we forget just how fortunate we are.

Pat and Darnell Heading Back to Kashmir
Pat and Darnell Heading Back to Kashmir

Enter the Rio Dulce