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Entry 10: Utila

While our time spent in Guatemala was unforgettable, it was time once again to weigh anchor, set sail and begin our long crossing of the Caribbean Sea. But before leaving the Western Carib, we had to stop in one of the biggest dive meccas in the world; Utila, Honduras. This time we would be joined by our Guatemalan keepsakes, the crew of Shirley. Roland, Oli, Irene, and a new friend Merav hopped aboard Cool Change to join us on the 3 day crossing, and maybe even make a little party.

If we thought crossing the bar entering Rio Dulce was unnerving, crossing the bar as we left was a nail-biting two hours of noises that should never be heard on any vessel. Unfortunately, the confident and capable crew of Goofy’s towboat that helped us cross the first time was not on point the day we left, so a new lancha came to assist us.

After negotiating a fair price for help pulling us off the bar, we gave ‘em our halyard so they can heel us over, lifting our keel out of the mud. The lancha driver seemed to not really know what he was doing. It was either too fast or pulling at the wrong angle. The first noise we heard, however, was the sound of gushing water down below. Roland yelled out, “Uh, guys! There’s a lot of water coming in!” Bru was on it so fast we didn’t take on too much water. As it turned out, one of our ports was left open creating a small waterfall inside CC. The mast creaked, the keel drug making sounds like a metal rake through rocks and mud, and CC’s motor was running full bore, churning up the shallow brown water. Once we had made it just past the bar, the lower unit of their launcha’s outboard fell off, leaving them disabled. We left them with their issue and another lancha on the way to tow them.

It was nice to have all this new energy on the boat. Our crew now represented 4 different countries; USA, Guatemala, Germany and Israel. Roland was always up for a drink, being a guest on a boat instead of its captain. “We get a little day drunk?” he would ask in his thick German accent, everyday around 10am. And he never missed his shower hour in the evenings. It was like a ritual for him. A cleanse from the day’s hard work of having to open his own beers.

Oli is Roland’s long time German friend who was visiting him for a few months. Oli’s english is not as refined as Roland’s, which makes everything he says a little creepy, but very endearing.

Irene, who Roland calls Pocahontas, is his girlfriend and the crews Guatemalan yogi queen. She never said much, but when she did it was meaningful and we all listened intently.

The newest member to the crew, Merav, is our globe trotting Israeli. Merav has a story for every one of the 50 countries she’s visited as a flight attendant in Israel. It was fun to listen to the banter between the Germans and Jew, whose countries history clearly had no effect on their friendship.

With winds from the east we sailed in a northerly direction. Just north of Placencia’s latitude out by Glover Reef, where we were just a few months back. We had great wind and weather the whole sail to Utila. The three days seemed to fly by.

As we rounded the eastern coast of Utila, the winds picked up in the wee hours of the morning, only CC’s 3 crew were awake. We were sailing with a second reef in the main and the jib furled up a bit. On our approach to the harbor, just a few miles out, we had some trouble. Our jib clew, where our sheets attach to control the sail, decided it was time to blow out after a splash from the bow hit the foot of the sail. We swiftly, but sloppily, furled the jib back up to stop it from wailing and flailing in the wind. As the sun started to peek its head over the horizon, the morning light showed us we were entering the anchorage. We set the hook, took in our new surroundings, and swapped out our jib for the secondary stowed below.

Utila was quite the change of pace from Fronteras. Dive boats zipping around full of young divers, moorings for the dive boats lined the coast just outside the harbor marking all sorts of dive spots, and the resounding honks of all the tuc tuc’s (3-wheeled taxis). We were eager to get in the water and explore the depths once again.

Once we had checked in and cleaned up the boat, Bru, Merav and myself decided to check out the waters. We dove a spot called Lighthouse reef. Corals, sea fans, and anemones were all over, as were the schools of scuba divers. We surfaced and regrouped with the rest of our crew.

We walked the narrow streets of Utila, absorbed in our surroundings and eating a local treat called baleadas (a tortilla folded in half with beans, queso fresco, avocado and eggs or meat that’s just perfect). The little visit was treating us well, but before we knew it, the time had come for the crew of Shirley to go back to Guatemala. They caught the early morning ferry back to mainland Honduras, where they caught a bus back to Rio Dulce. We thoroughly enjoyed having them aboard to share CC and her true sailing spirit. We look forward to the day when we’re finally sailing with the Shirley crew again. We hope baleadas will be involved.

Later on in our time on Utila, we went out for a free dive session. The three of us took the dinghy to the farthest upwind mooring buoy and drift dove the corals of Airport Caves.” Beneath the surface, volcanic rock formations created caves and arches to explore. And true to its name, Airport Caves included natural structures that looked like runways for an airport extending from shore to sea and dropping to thousands of feet. The other divers in the area seemed surprised to be joined by anyone else. Among the small crowd of divers, we saw eels, puffer fish, angel fish and much more. Freediving takes a combination of relaxing and concentrating that has all the elements of meditation. The beauty of the reef and the focus of the dive took us in so much that we lost track of time and must have been in the water for at least 4 hours before calling it a day.

Photo: Szilard Janko

About a week after arriving, we had our first experience with a real-life mermaid! I was on the spreaders just enjoying the scenery when I noticed someone in the water swimming towards CC. I hollered down to the guys on deck below but none of us could tell what we we’re looking at. The person was swimming oddly and, when she came closer, I noticed something shiny in her hand. She swam right up to the dinghy and when she surfaced it all became clear. She surfaced with a huge smile and a bottle of vodka as a gift. With her hair wet and tan skin glistening in the sunlight she introduced herself as Kina. She was real! She told us she swam out to pick our brains and learn a bit more about sailing and the sailors life. We hit it off right away and soon became friends. We even took her out for a sail and showed her the ropes… I know, I know they’re not ropes on a sailboat, they’re lines.

She ended up showing us some freshwater caves. Captain Peanut wasn’t too sure about the area, but where the boys go, he goes. So into the cave we ventured. The entrance was amidst sharp rocks within a bunch of mangrove trees. It was a tight squeeze, but when we stooped down and shined our lights in the cave we could make out the way. Stalagmites and stalactites were all around us, dripping water that would grow them even larger.

On our hands and knees crawling deeper, we could feel the moisture getting more dense. We arrived at a pool and eagerly donned our masks, snorkels and dive lights. There was a swim-through about 5ft. down that led to another chamber to surface for fresh air. It was an eerie feeling down there, as if we had stepped back in time thousands of years. It was almost lifeless to the naked eye except one little fish that lives his calm life in complete darkness. I wonder what he thought of all our lights.

When we had returned from diving in the caves Kina took us to an art hotel called The Jade Seahorse. It had all sorts of mosaic tiles and odd things like motherboards from computers to make a wall or just odd pieces of jewelry, carvings, stones, and glass orbs. It was a combination of time and a very patient, creative mind.

Before we knew it, it was time once again to re-provision our food stocks, water up, and prepare CC for our longest crossing yet. With help from Kina telling us where the best veggies are, as well as other food stuffs, we made our way through town one last time. We got squared away with the officials and prepared CC for the sail. We left a few hours before sunset with a sense of eagerness and loss. We were leaving our newfound mermaid friend… but we gotta go. “Hoist the main! Set the jib! Ready the stays'l! Let’s go boys!”

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