October 15, 2019
With the 2019 Caribbean hurricane season nearing its end, we finally made it to Guatemala. Despite our intentions of a July arrival to the Rio Dulce — a location with a long established history of protection from Caribbean storms — it was now October. Had we waited any longer, the boat traffic we would have encountered on our way in would have mostly been departing in the opposite direction to start their sailing season. Ya… we were a solid three months behind most everyone else… but hey, what’s new?
The hundred fifteen mile overnight sail from Utila covered the entire spectrum ranging from sublime downwind sailing, to frustrated motoring with zero wind, to a twenty five knot squall smashing us from dead upwind.
Strangely, earlier in the day, all three boats had been visited repeatedly by a roving group of very curious and seemingly unseaworthy birds.
Later, with the sun touching down on the horizon almost directly in front of us, we were treated to the privilege of being escorting into the sunset by a pod of dolphins riding Exit’s bow wake.
Exit, Samba Pa Ti, and Off The Grid had all picked up anchor and set out from Utila within an hour of each other; however, any semblance of unity (often loosely defined as three specks stretched across the horizon) instantly disintegrated when the evening squall hit. All three boats scattered in different directions and it would be twelve hours later, outside Livingston, Guatemala, before we saw either boat again. Fortunately, the only casualty was a flying fish discovered later on deck (not so fortunate for the fish…)
The following morning, having just concluded our overnight watches pounding through the sloppy conditions left behind by the squall, we patted each other on the back in recognition of surpassing eight thousand nautical miles travelled aboard Exit.
After anchoring in the bay of Cabo Tres Puntas, directly opposite the mouth of the Rio Dulce for a short rest time, we experienced a rather painless clearing in at Livingston. Thanks to an early enough start, were fortunate to be able to head immediately up the river, saving us from having to anchor overnight in Livingston, which had a sketchy reputation.
Conversely, Samba Pa Ti spent the night there, hoping to sort out ongoing fuel line problems. Apparently the streak of Honduran bad luck had gone international and crossed over to Guatemala with them, as Craig promptly had the fenders stolen off the side of his boat that night!
We had heard endless stories about how stunning the journey up the Rio Dulce was… it had been anticipated as our hurricane season hideaway for months and months.
Now, after sitting in the middle of what was predicted by both history and our insurance company to be a hurricane risk hotspot — and subsequently having watched storm after storm pass up the U.S. East Coast, through the very area our insurance company had recommended we be at — we were finally here!
Traveling up the Rio Dulce, Guatemala:
Nearly ten miles of tranquil river, winding its way through the Guatemalan jungle. Incredibly dense foliage stretching outward in all directions, sometimes looming atop limestone cliffs carved out three hundred or more feet directly above.
We’re motoring instead of sailing, unfortunately; but it’s still magical.
Every now and then, a small group of buildings emerge along the shoreline ahead.
The chances are almost equal that the occupant of the small dugout style cayuca fishing near the shore is an over forty year old woman or a twelve year old boy.
After two hours of snaking our way back and forth, mostly in solitude, the Rio Dulce expands out into a lake called El Golfete. On one side, a number of small community bays; on the other side, largely no development whatsoever.
After a few days at anchor in Texas Bay, we ventured out to explore other anchorages.
Oftentimes, our dinghy proved to be the absolutely invaluable resource, especially when it came to exploration.
Following a dinghy reconnaissance up a small unsounded and inaccurately charted river, we became confident enough to return with the Mothership and feel our way along, eventually dropping anchor in a spot that seemed like complete jungle isolation (with the exception of a few local boats occasionally passing by with wave and a smile.
Eventually, it was time to move a bit further upriver to the town of Fronteras where we had a date with Monkey Bay Marina. Exit, once again, being placed under house arrest.
At US$220 per month to tie up in a slip, it was too cheap to pass up.
It provided us the opportunity to get our anchor re-galvanised (a two week prospect), complete projects like clean and waterproof our bimini and dodger covers, as well as perform oil and fuel filter changes with a means of disposal.
Plus, if everything went according to plan, we would also be able to sort out an inexpensive source for Sunbrella dinghy chaps and sun shades for Exit’s deck. The dinghy was beginning to show signs of wear and tear from both constant use as well as sun exposure; we couldn’t afford not to protect it. Furthermore, a recent check with our infra-red temperature gun confirmed surface temperatures on our aluminium deck in excess of one hundred twenty five degrees Fahrenheit during the day! That makes Exit literally an aluminium frying pan on bare feet. It has become obvious that some kind of removable sun shade for the deck would make a huge difference in our comfort, both above and below deck.
Lastly, Exit safely tucked in a marina gave us the peace of mind to set out on a four week land exploration through Guatemala and Mexico. The chance to experience completely new locations, revisit destinations we hadn’t seen in ten to twenty years, and rendezvous with old friends in the least likely of places.
So, Monkey Bay Marina it was.
And yep… there were monkeys.