Hootenanny at Hole in the Wall
January 27, 2005
"Little Gidding! Here's Victoria. I can't believe you guys are back. And just in time -- we're having a hootenanny next week!"
The voice on the radio belonged to our old cruising friend Dave Waltz on "Victoria", whom we hadn't seen in seven years. We were approaching our landfall in the Bay Islands of Honduras and had just checked in with the northwestern Caribbean SSB radio net. Dave and his partner Donna are two of the volunteer net controllers. A lot of cruisers in this part of the world tune in the net each morning just to hear Dave's detailed weather reports; he also maintains a very informative web site for cruisers at www.nwcaribbean.net.
"Uh, sure, sounds great, Dave," David replied. "Why don't we call you back after we get settled?" David's lack of enthusiasm had nothing to do with a lack of interest in Dave and Donna or a lack of interest in hootenannies for that matter. It had more to do with a lack of sleep and the fact that we had been drifting along the south coast of Roatan Island since midnight, waiting for daylight before entering the pass into French Harbour. Just after Eileen had started the engine to make our final approach, the alternator belt had shredded itself for no particular reason. David had replaced the belt and was now trying to locate a non-existent reef marker. He hung up the radio mic and picked up the binoculars. "I don't see the green buoy that's supposed to mark the outer end of the channel, but I see a red buoy. I guess they've switched things around since we were last here. Either that or that buoy is attached to a fish trap and we're about to go up on the reef."
We left the buoy to starboard and didn't go up on the reef. We followed the channel northward towards shore; after a quarter of a mile we passed a rusty iron stake which we hoped marked the inner end of the channel, and took a sharp right into the anchorage behind Big and Little French cays. "Hey, we didn't run aground and no one died," David said. "I guess we can consider that passage to be a success."
Eileen has higher standards. "I'd feel more positive if I had an article or two of clothing that weren't soaked in salt water," she said.
Eileen has this thing about salt water. She figures it belongs on the outside of the boat. She doesn't mind getting wet as long as she chooses the time and place for her immersion, like when she's wearing a bathing suit and diving off the side of the boat at anchor. She prefers not to get immersed when she's huddled in the cockpit at night wearing her last pair of dry sweat pants. Unfortunately, in the four days it took us to sail from Cuba to Roatan, there were a few rude waves that didn't respect Eileen's wishes.
Even with a fortuitously timed rain shower, it took a while to get the boat, our clothes, and ourselves cleaned up and desalted. We didn't get back to Dave until the morning after our arrival. "Donna and I have a house overlooking Calabash Bight now," he told us over the radio. "A bunch of us are getting together to play music next weekend at the Hole In The Wall bar in Jonesville. It's about midway between French Harbour and Calabash; why don't you meet us there?"
Somehow it seemed appropriate that we should celebrate our reunion with some music making. We met Dave and Donna on our first visit to the Bay Islands in the winter of 1997. Dave plays a mean banjo and harmonica; Donna plays the guitar and has a wonderful soprano voice. Eileen remembers strumming along with them in a string of anchorages from Roatan to the Rio Dulce in Guatemala. After the 1997 hurricane season, "Little Gidding" headed north; "Victoria" headed back to the Bay Islands, where Dave and Donna have been based ever since.
Last Saturday we took the boat to Bodden Bight, where Jonesville is located. The community is typical of the settlements that line the coasts of Guanaja, Roatan and Utila, the principal islands in the Bay of Honduras. The houses are built over the water on pilings. Access within the community and transportation to neighbouring settlements is primarily by boat. We anchored near the head of the bay, a few hundred yards from the venerable Hole In The Wall bar; it was mid-afternoon. As we dinghied up to the dock that was next to the bar, we noticed a hand-painted sign pointing down into the water: "Jim Dandy Memorial Underwater Park".
A large red and blue parrot was guarding the entrance to the bar and squawked loudly as we climbed the stairs. The bar was basically a covered deck on stilts above the water. There was a cramped counter and six or eight tables around which a couple of dozen people sat. We ducked the parrot and were greeted by a big man with a white beard who identified himself as Bob. We had heard of Bob. He owns the Hole In The Wall and enjoys legendary status among serious bar patrons throughout the northwestern Caribbean. "What's your parrot called?" David asked.
"Abogado," Bob said. Abogado is Spanish for lawyer.
"That's an odd name," David said.
Bob shrugged. "He named himself. When we first got him, everything he said sounded like 'abogado', so we figured we might as well call him that."
"Who is Jim Dandy?" David continued, pointing at the sign on the dock.
"Jim Dandy is the 38 foot trimaran that I lived on for twelve years. Sailed her from California to here in 1990. I built this place around eight years ago and kept the boat at the dock. One day, another boat came alongside and hit her and she slowly began to take on water. Eventually, she sunk." Another shrug. "Now she's a reef."
Just as we were learning Bob's story, Dave and Donna arrived with a bunch of music equipment. This was the signal for various people to put down their drinks and get out instruments. There was a flurry of introductions before everyone got down to the serious business of having fun. Todd and Susan had taken the ferry over from La Ceiba on the mainland. Their boat "Snow Day" was in the shipyard there undergoing some upgrades. Todd used to play lead guitar in a number of bands in the States. Susan had a pair of bongos. David (another David) on "Expectations" had come across with Todd and Susan, bringing another guitar. Alex was a cruiser who had recently bought a place in Calabash. He used to be a professional bass player. Dave had his banjo and five or six harmonicas. Donna and Eileen pulled out their guitars.
For the next six hours, the Hole In The Wall reverberated with tunes ranging from old pop to blues to country to folk. There were original solos and singalongs, instrumentals and vocal harmonies. Nobody seemed to mind if some notes were missed or a word or two forgotten. The bongos got passed around. The audience clapped rhythm. David demonstrated how to do the Anchoring Dance. Abogado squawked. The bar mutt yelped.
It was a thirsty crowd. At roughly a buck a beer, David felt he should thoroughly research what Honduran breweries were capable of producing. As it got dark, food appeared. Laura on "Soularity" had organized a potluck dinner. She produced a seemingly endless stream of pizzas from the small kitchen behind the counter. David uncovered the quiche he had made. Several salads and desserts materialized.
Around nine o'clock the musicians began to fade. Pizza production slowed to a halt since everyone was stuffed. Dave took the mic and announced that Bob had decided all the drinks were on the house. Everyone cheered.
Free food and grog, lively music, good friends. Life doesn't get much better. So what if the price of admission is a salty seven hundred mile ride?