48′ Tayana, La Ceiba Honduras

We were holed up on Honduras’s Roatan Island, side-tied by the dive boats at Fantasy Island Resort . The boat was a real nice 48′ Tayana cutter called Island Time. Onboard was first mate Phil and deck crew Chris. We were supposed to be headed east but were sidetracked by a serious prop shaft wobble and some other issues. A mainland boatyard visit was our immediate future.

When I arrive on the weekend, sometimes I’ll wait to do the official country check-in on Monday. It’s always faster and usually cheaper. It’s not good advice, it’s just what I do when I think I can get away with it. I called the port captain and arranged to meet him at his office. I cabbed to town and waited for him. He was only 40 minutes late, pretty good for third world. He was a frowner, which had me regretting I hadn’t dressed up more. Dress shorts were all I had clean. Always wear a collared shirt and clean full pants (I prefer those thin khaki pants that zip into shorts – REI.com). For that or some other reason, he sent me to the airport for immigration. Two more cabs. On the bright-side, the women who helped me there were beautiful and cheery. The PC had left by the time I got back, contrary to his word. And I noticed the immigration office had opened up across from his. Probably best for him that he had left. I decided to complete our check in when we got to the mainland boatyard. Again, not sound advice … unless you have a plan.

The good news was while I checking out downtown Coxen Hole, aptly named, I bumped into some cruisers and one of my 7 fans. Wayne, Elda, James and Carol had just sailed down from the states on sv Big Fun. They were staying at the best dive resort on the island, Coco View. After a group shot for posterity (what does that mean?), they dragged me off on a Roatan inland tour – love the cruising community. We ended up at a jungle lunch place for cocktails and burgers. Later I got a tour of Coco View, the perfect low key dive resort.

We wanted to arrive at the entrance to La Ceiba before sundown so we left Fantasy Island at 0430 … with no moon. Still without a chart, we took it slow and followed our path out. The sea opened up to us and we set sail and shot off to the south. As we closed with the high mainland we lost our wind and fired up the chopper. With the shaft wobble, the spinning prop made a thump-thump. I had dove on it back at Fantasy. The movement was slight, the shaft was heavy 2”, damage at low RPMs was unlikely.

We were getting clouds and rain off an on which obscured the already tricky entrance. I thought back to a few days before when I misplaced an entire peninsula in my navigating. What I’ve learned to do is to get up close to a confusing obstruction in order to properly decipher the situation. But not so close where there is not an easy, sure-thing, way out. We pulled up, just outside the breakers, watched a set go through and cruised in. It got shallow but we made it. Inside were some more obstructions: a dredge, an oil drum, fishing boats (why are they whistling at us?) stacked out across the channel.

We did make it to the boatyard dock. I miscalculated the current and had to use the training wheels (bow thruster) to keep it clean – don’t tell anyone. We were greeted by the security guy. He had to set down his shotgun to tie us off. Hal was parked in front of us on a very kewl ancient Colin Archer. The kind with the low house and long bow sprit. Hal was good about giving us the low down on how the yard operated and where to get parts. Look him up if you get there, he intends to stay forever.

Onelly was the very sweet office manager. She got us checked in. The owner Giovanni met with me and we figured out our plan. I know how these places work. They are blackholes for the unsuspecting. You need a solid plan and the ability to second guess your obstacles. We met many cruisers there who had fallen into the yard and couldn’t get out. I got more funny looks everytime I explained my in and out plan to the afflicted.
I quickly got to know the main yard guys, the guys responsible for getting the work done. George ran the travelift and was good entertainment. David was the labor organizer. They all spoke enough English to make things easy. The yard had an outside ‘mechanic’ that had the tools to pull the shaft and the old bearing. I got him right to work. I got the yard to do an estimate for bottom paint and checked with the owner. That was a go. It’s a good thing to do whenever you haul. I could tell where the first hold up was going to come from. The yard wasn’t sure how long it would take to get the new bearing. I asked around and found the part in town that same day from Raul at Kawa Motors. Cut off the delays before they happen.

We spent the evenings with the yardies (yachties living in the yard). Carl was the crazy happy German dude with burns all over his head – I didn’t get a chance to ask. There were a pair of catamarans and their owner’s, Mark in one and Jim and Marley in the other. And you may have heard of Steven Ladd and his book “Three years in a 12′ boat”. This guy still hadn’t had enough. Now he’s in his new, big 18′ boat which of course invites the question, why not have crew join the adventure. He was sailing with some young hot treehugger.

The town of La Ceiba was adventure in itself. You could take a cab for 20 Lempira if you secured the deal upfront. Or you could walk out and catch the bus for 6L – don’t ask the price, just hand the money. I always take the bus to get ‘in touch’ with the locals. On the way to wave down the bus, we dropped off laundry and picked up some fresh hot tortillas from the corner shack.

Once in town, we followed our new friend Hal to the wood place. It was someone’s backyard filled with amazing jungle hardwoods of the stateside unobtainium variety. Between the piles of the nearly free priceless wood were some of those old-school belt driven saws. After that we split up. I walked into town while Hal tempted the boys into his favorite bar – Expatriates. An adventure from which they would not soon emerge, I reckoned.

I walked through the mini city of La Cieba ending my trek on the misty, wave pounded beach by the entrance jetty. It seemed like a violent place in contrast to the tranquil draws of the happy town. It never seems that way at sea, just at the transition from sea to land. Sort of a heads-up to the contrasting perils as you switch sides.

Day 2 in the yard got the bottom sanded and paint started, we changed a batten in the main, cleaned the decks, got the coupling off the motor (after suggesting heat) and pulled the shaft. I started narrowing down a marina for our next destination. We got cleaned up and had dinner with some yardies and watched a movie back on the boat. It was a nice balance, enjoying the crazy other-world machinations and challenges of La Ceiba and then retiring in the evening, showered, to the beautiful relative luxury of a modern boat interior. Screens on the ports and hatches, we could still enjoy the breeze, sounds and scents from the jungle around us.

Day 3 was a Friday and the day I had imagined, with some luck, we could have possibly splashed. The paint got done including some nice two-part barrier coat work where the boss had found some reef in Belize. I was checking on Louis, our shaft mechanic, as I did often. He said he was building a tool to pull the bearing. This sent me back to the yard guys who had told me that they had a puller. They couldn’t find it. Monday splash? The bearing did come out right around quitting tme, coincidence? I checked the weather (wx) for Monday, it looked a little bumpy.

Isla Mujeres and our continuing adventure, next month. Quality, Balance and a Clean Wake.

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