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The Caribbean islands: Providencia, Guanaja and Isla Mujeres
6.- 24.4.2005

6.4.   15.4.   21.4.   24.4.  

6.4.2005 Providencia, Colombia 13° 22 N  81º 22 W
Weather fax showed a two-day weather window - NE 10 - before the trades would veer back north and increase. We left on April the first, Fool's Day, Friday, despite all the possible bad luck beliefs. Three days at the Colon Yacht Club had been busy. We washed several loads from thick bed quilts to carpets and moldy jackets (soon we need them again!). Propane, diesel and water tanks were filled, boat washed in and out, and the extra berth sorted out, which had been a throw-in storage. Hot and moist climate had grown a lot of mold in many places. Finally the last trip tp the crocery's, clearance and out to the sea. Despite the favourable forecast we were prepared to tack, but the wind was where it was predicted and we were heading directly towards Provoidencia.
When we opened genoa outside the breakwater, we noticed a small cut. What to do? Turn around and sail back to Colon or continue hoping that the sail will not break more. We had been five weeks in Panama, too long. If we now would return, it would take at least a week until the next weather window. We decided to sail on and repair the sail in Providencia. It was a good decision, the cut didn't enlargen. The only mentionworth happening during the trip was US Coast Guard helicopter that checked us out. They asked home port and number of crew on VHF.

At the Colon Yach Club, from left: Kari (s/y Necesse), Danish solosailor Jens (s/y Carita), 
Hannu, Marika (s/y Necesse), and Satu & Kari (s/y Satu III). Local beer costs one dollar.

We had left in a "last minute". Two days the wind was favourable, but during the last night it turned more north and increased. The wind blowed us 10 miles off Providencia. We spent the night tacking and arrived to the sea buoy in the sun rise. Surroundings in Providencia are shallow and full of reefs, so we didn't want to enter during the dark anyway. In addition, GPS and chart didn't match, so it was nice to see the buoys. The channel is shallow, min. 4 metres (12 ft), and also the anchorage is shallow, actually too shallow to be a good anchorage, we have only 0.5 m under the keel. There were two US boats, Eliza ja Merinda.
Before we had filled our inflatable to visit the Port Captain, three men came aboard. One was from the port captain's office and one an agent, called "Mr. Bush". Paperworks were done before we could say anything, we only handed out several copies of crewlists (why they always need so many of them!). Later we heard the using an agent is mandatory in Colombia. Mr Bush charged 40 dollars. About 200-250 boats visit Providencia each year, so it makes a nice living.

Providencia and San Andrés
are Colombian islands, although they are located on the Nicaraguan coast, 400 miles from the mainland. San Andres (pop. 100.000) is a busy tourist place, "Colombian Hawaii", but Providencia with its 4500 inhabitants is quiet and laidback. No tourists, or if there are some, it doesn't show. No street vendors, no souvenier shops. Providencia is proud of its safety, and not for vain, it might be one of the few Colombian towns without robberies. We were ensured that not a single dinghy has been stolen from the dock. The town is full of mopeds and colourful houses. Several small croceries and eateries, a couple of bakeries. One internet place (1.5 dollars an hour, very slow). We found a fish shop and bough a fresh red snapper (2 $) and a bag of conch meat (3 $). We had been looking forward to local lobsters, but the harvest is forbidden 1.4.-31.7.

Next to Providencia is small Santa Catalina. The islands are connected by a foot bridge painted in Colombian colours. 

Moped is the most common transport method 
on an island that has only 17 km roads. 

Although Columbus found the islands on the 1600th century and Spain took them in its possession, the Spanish settlements were not succesfull. Pirates, British Henry Morgan above all, invaded the islands for themselves. They cultured vegetables and cattle. The location was perfect for the pirates. Spanish galleons, loaded with gold, sailed this way on their return to Europe. In additoin to the official language of Spanish, English is spoken, and people are proud of their British roots. However, it's really difficult to understand the English dialect, sometimes even Spanish is easier! People are ranging from black to white, because Africans and Caribs were brough in as slaves. Later Latinos mixed in. There seems to be no colour barriers.
Similar history and mixture of inhabitants is found on the Bay Islands of Honduras. Roatan, Utila, Guanja and Cayos Cochinos are an English language spot in the Central-American Latino culture. People don't - or don't want to - speak Spanish, and they consider themselves as the decendants of the British (pirates). Our plan is to sail next to Guanja (16º 27'N 85º 52' W), which is located on the north coast of Honduras, about 350 miles from Providencia. The strong trade winds are supposed to decrease on Friday/Saturday giving a good time to leave. Before that we will drive around Providencia (17 km) with a moped.


15.4.2005 Guanaja, Honduras 16° 26 N 85° 53 W
We left Providencia on Saturday, the 9th. Weather was perfect, fresh sidewind and the current with us. We made 144 miles on the first 24 hours. We got one fish, a yellowfin tuna, which is delicious. Also on this passage officials came to check us out. About 30 miles from Providencia we saw a US warship, which, however, didn't take contact. At the same time a Colombian aircraft was circeling us and soon after a big open boat arrived. It had three 200 hp engines and four men. They asked via VHF where we are heading, how many persons onboard and what is our nationality. Obviously Finnish flag wasn't recognised.
We stopped on Cayos Vivorillo (15° 50 N 83° 20 W) 193 miles NW from Provindencia for three nights. The place was underwater paradise. Not overwater, because the island, where we had anchored, wasn't pretty. It had all kinds of trees and bushes, which made it look somehow messy. Tree trunks were lying on water. There was an abandoned stonehouse and dock ruins. Maybe a former lobster station. Hurricane Mitch was around in 1998, maybe it devastated the place. The shores were full of grap, mainly different shape and colour plastic bottles and - surprisingly - shoes. The land was white of bird poop, which was also smelly. But it was fun to watch frigatebirds, gannets, pelicans and gulls. And further away was a the perfect tropical island: palmtrees and white sandy beach. We snorkled in the warm and clear water. There was a spot like trees swaying in the wind: fan corals and other up growing, bushlike corals swaying with the waves. Beautiful! Another place had more dense coral carpet (brain corals) and lot of fish. We gathered souveniers from the beach: dead corals, conch shells and a sponge. It was great to be alone and in peace. Might be the last lonely anchorage.


A Caribbean cossack or happy hermit? 
No, a sponge head Finnish sailor!

On Wednesday we left to Guanaja 150 miles away. Wind was calm and finally it died completely. We motored the last five hours. Guanaja is 10 miles long island, which is surrounded by a reef and small cays. A channel runs across the island, easy access to the other side. Boat traffic is very busy. I don't know if the main island has cars, but the small islets don't. The village of Guanaja is located on one of the cays. Wooden houses, narrow alleys and canals fill the whole island from one end to another. Shores are full of boats from big fishing vessels to launches. A traffic jam occurs when two carts meet on a narrow lane. Village has several crocery stores, two internet places, a couple of hotels and cafes. We exchanged local money, lempiras, at the bank. (Lempira was a native chief who led a battle against the Spanish in 1537. Next year Lempira was assasinated during the peace negotiations. He is a national hero in Honduras.)

Guanaja village is called the Venice of Honduras.

Coral is not a plant, it's an animal. It belongs to the class of cnidaria (before coelenterate) together with anemones and polyps. The cnidaria have a body consisted of double cell layer. Between them are muscle cells. The cnidaria have a mouth, a pharynx and a hollow stomach with sex organs connected to stomach's wall. Fertilised egg developes to a planula, a tiny hairy sausage looking plankton, before changing into an adult. Some corals reproduce by gemmation. Most of the corals live attached to a base. Corals secrete a skeleton from calsium- or magnesiumcarbonate or keratin. Some coral species have a shared skeleton. Corals have nerve and sense cells, which react to light, gravity and chemical stimulus. The cnidaria have about 10.000 different species.
Coral is growing about one centimetre in ten years, so most what we see are tens, even hundreds of years old. Living coral should never be touched, it damages the animal, and may kill it. Some corals are stingy.

21.4.2005 Isla Mujeres, Mexico 21° 15 N 86° 44 W
Internet in Guanaja was so slow, that I couldn't get the photos in to previous update. New try here.
We left Guanaja on Monday after the northerlies shifted and sailed 300 miles north, to Isla Mujeres that lies close to the tourist city Cancun on the tip of Yucatan peninsula. It was a good sail after the first 24-hours, when the wind was so light that Kristiina moved more sideways than forward, and the autopilot was not able to hold the course. After that we had 15-25 E NE. Gulf stream is already strong, we got 1-2 knots, which kept the speed around 7 knots (max 8.8. kn). Now to the port captain and looking around. We'll write more later.

24.4.2005 Isla Mujeres, Mexico 21° 15 N 86° 44 W
Isla Mujeres is 7,5 km long, flat sand island, which lives on tourism. Island has hotels, but most of the tourists come from Cancun just for a day. The trip takes 25 minutes and return ticket costs 3 dollars. Streets of Isla Mujeres are full of souvenier shops and cafes. The speciality is golfcar rental - tourists drive around filling up the narrow streets. Houses are coulourful. Year ago hurricanes destroyed the island.

Isla Mujeres lives on tourism

First time we experienced the Mexican clearance bureaucracy in full force. You cannot do the clearance yourself, you have to take an agent. The agent took our papers and presented the fees: immigration 424 pesos, sanitation inspection 132 pesos, port captain 162 pesos, anchoring 112 pesos, agent 250 pesos. Totally about 90 dollars / 70 euros. The procedure would start with the sanitation inspection. Island has one inspector, who would arrive at 1 pm. We went to internet and came back to meet the inspector in a Mexican style 15 to 20 past one. No inspector or agent. We were told to come back at 2 pm. After waiting an hour, we were told to return next morning. Next day we met a slighlty irritated agent, who told that the sanitation inspector had waited us at 1 pm sharp. Who would have thought that was so precise! After an hour the man arrived and left for Kristiina with Hannu. He was a bit worried when he saw our leaking dinghy, but stepped in despite wetting his shoes. Aboard Kristiina he asked if we had rats or cocroaches, peaked into the fridge and toilet. Back to the office he fillied in two papers and stamped five crewlists. Then to immigration with the agent, who had forgotten our zarpe and had to drive back to the office for it. Then to the bank, to pay 424 pesos. Back to agent's office. The agent went with bunch of papers to the port captain and we waited. However, he didn't get the papers, so we should come back later. So we did, and now we are legally in the country, after two days.
Once in the subject, lets tell about Honduras and officials who wanted black money. On arrival we paid 100 lempiras (5 dollars) to the immigration guy, and when we were leaving, the two men in the port captain wanted 100, after a while 200 lempiras (10 dollars). No receipts, and maybe we could have walked out without paying, but we paid. That was our last lempiras ment for food, we got only two breads. It has to be said, however, that we have met seldom - if never before - this kind of officials. Some cruising guides even advice to pay "under the counter" to avoid delays and teasing. In these cases the officials are said to have so low salary, that this kind of "tipping" is part of it. Well, in that way you never get a rise. In Mexico we have never met this phenomenon, on the contrary. Part of Mexican bureaucracy is preventing black payments: none of the offices take cash. It means visits and waits at the banks, but this way the payments are correct.

Hurricane destroyed the shore boulevard

Sorry about the missing text, but we have to hoist the anchor! It's forecasted southerlies and we are riding them through the Yucatan channel.

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