March 24, 2005
Our friend Joe just finished spending a week with us on the boat. He's now back in Toronto, probably shovelling snow out of his driveway so he can extricate his car from his garage and drive to work. We're in the Bay Islands of Honduras recovering from Joe's visit.
This is the third time Joe has visited us for a winter vacation; in years past, he's met us in the Eastern Caribbean and in the Bahamas. Joe's idea of a sojourn in the sun is to do as much as humanly possible in the limited time he has on board. He's not content sipping a rum drink in the shade of a palm tree; there's too much stuff he might miss if he's stationary for more than a minute or two. We, on the other hand, are perfectly happy sipping a rum drink in the shade of a palm tree. Our biggest challenge when Joe comes to visit is to channel his hyperactivity in such a way that he's happy and we're not totally exhausted.
The first time Joe joined us, we picked him up at the island of Sint Maarten and dropped him off at Tortola, in the British Virgins. He was into triathlons in a big way then and felt he had to keep training while he was away on vacation. Each morning, he'd get up at dawn and swim to shore and go for a run on the beach. Unfortunately, he would have too much energy left when he swam back to the boat. We'd just be getting out of our berth and he'd want to be on the way to the next anchorage. We started anchoring further and further away from shore. Joe would get up earlier and swim faster. We finally got a full night's sleep when we did a night crossing of the Anegada Passage. At sunset, we left Joe at the helm with the cruising spinnaker flying and told him not to hit anything. When we arrived in Virgin Gorda the next morning, Joe was still behind the wheel. "Hey, that was great," he beamed, "Let's go back and do it again!"
Since that first visit, Joe, through his athletic pursuits, has managed to systematically destroy just about every piece of cartilage in his body. "Maybe he's slowed down a bit with age," Eileen said hopefully the day before he was due to arrive.
David met Joe at the airport in Roatan. Joe's a good boat guest; he knows how to pack. He had brought three soft-sided bags: two for him, one for us. Our bag contained backlogged mail that we had arranged to be forwarded to him; a frozen, vacuum-packed beef tenderloin; three bottles of good wine; gourmet coffee beans; several Swiss chocolate bars; a bunch of DVDs (action flicks, of course); and the weekend edition of "The Globe & Mail". That night at anchor in French Harbour we made a serious dent in the wine and chocolate bars and watched one of the movies.
We got an early start the next morning and headed for the Hole In The Wall bar and restaurant in Bodden Bight (see our January 27th entry, "Hootenanny At Hole In The Wall"). It was Sunday, the day Bob -- the Hole In The Wall's owner -- puts on an all-you-can-eat steak and lobster barbecue. He invariably attracts a big crowd and we didn't want to be left at the back of the line. We had just dropped the anchor a short distance from the waterside restaurant when our friends Dave and Donna came by in their skiff. "Bring your guitar with you," Dave told Eileen. "Todd and Susan on 'Snow Day' are also here with their instruments so we'll have a jam session."
Bob was true to form and no one was left hungry. David introduced Joe to Honduran beer. Joe didn't need a lot of encouragement. The musicians got out their instruments. There was an unassigned set of bongo drums. Todd looked at Joe. "Give the bongos to that pale looking dude." Joe took another swallow of beer and started banging away at a frantic (if slightly erratic) beat. "The guy's a natural," Todd said.
The sun set, the no-see-ums came out, and we retreated to the boat for more chocolate and another movie. "We have to get up early tomorrow to sail to Cayos Cochinos," David announced. Joe reluctantly turned out the light over his berth.
It was flat calm when we left for Cayos Cochinos. We motored south for twenty-five miles without a hint of a breeze. Joe wasn't happy. Joe probably would not have been happy with anything short of gale force winds. By the time we arrived at the bay on the west side of Cochino Grande, Joe was about to burst. "Let's go ashore and explore," he said.
We followed a trail through the jungle and climbed to the lighthouse at the island's highest peak. From the lighthouse we descended to a Garifuna village on the far side of the island. Most of the houses were built of mud and thatch. The elementary school was one of the few wood and concrete buildings. Eileen stopped to talk with the Spanish speaking teacher. A young boy was shooting baskets on the school's cracked basketball court. In no time, Joe was playing with him one-on-one. The sun was getting low on the horizon when we dragged Joe off the court and hiked briskly across the island back to the boat.
There was still no wind the next day. The morning weather forecast warned of an approaching cold front and strong northerly winds. "We're exposed to the north here," David said, "we'll have to sail back to Roatan."
Before weighing anchor, David and Joe took the dinghy to Lower Monitor, another Garifuna village about a mile away on a small sandy island. There was no electricity or running water on the island. The huts were scattered about in no particular order. The beach was strewn with beached dugout canoes; kids played in the water and women were hanging up the wash. Joe works for the planning department in Toronto. He shook his head and took a bunch of photos. "It looks like they could use a planner down here," he said.
We motored back to Roatan, the sea glassy smooth. Joe was glum. It wasn't long after we had anchored in sheltered Gibson Bight that the wind piped up and it began to rain. Joe grilled the steaks he had brought, which we accompanied with more wine, more chocolate and another movie.
The next morning, we woke to blasts of wind and rain. Breakers completely obliterated the narrow pass into the bight. Eileen said, "It looks like a nice day to spend quietly on board."
Joe said, "Let's walk into town."
David and Joe walked to West End, about a half hour hike from Gibson Bight. There were signs on the road announcing an international triathlon in a couple of days. Joe thought the town was colourful, interesting, and just the right scale. "But why isn't there anyone around?" he asked.
"Could have something to do with the weather," David said, the water dripping from his hat.
The skies cleared up by the next day. It was the last opportunity to go sailing. We motored out of Gibson Bight and raised our sails. There was a five knot breeze. Joe studied the telltales and corrected the helm. The numbers on the knotmeter painstakingly climbed to three knots. We hit a gust and it jumped to four. "Now we're flying," Joe said. The wind promptly died. For another hour we drifted along at about one knot. When we reached the reef pass into West End, we dropped the sails and started the engine. "Well, at least we got some sailing in," Joe said. He didn't sound too convinced.
We went ashore to walk the beach. It was Joe's last night in the islands so we decided to hit the town for dinner and entertainment. By 10 PM we had visited three bars and it was time to hear the live band at the Black Pearl. For some unknown reason, the Black Pearl is permitted to stay open later and play louder music than any other establishment in town. At midnight, we and everyone else in West End were crammed into the bar listening to what might be the best band in the entire northwestern Caribbean. Someone told us that Brian, the lead musician, was from LA and used to perform with Janet Jackson. Someone else claimed he had opened for the Rolling Stones. There was no question he was good, as were the bass player and drummer.
Around about the third set, Joe brought up the topic of the triathlon that he and David had seen advertised on the road leading into West End. David looked up from his beer. He had forgotten about the triathlon. "Do you think we can see the start of the race tomorrow?" Joe asked. "There should be plenty of time before I have to go to the airport."
"Sure," David slurred. He didn't think to ask what time triathlons usually start.
It was after 2 AM when we got back to the boat. It was then that Joe informed David that triathlons generally begin shortly after dawn so that the participants can complete the contest before the heat of the day. David made a mental note to strike triathlons from his list of spectator sports.
David and Joe took the dinghy to shore as the sun peaked up over the horizon. It was a twenty minute walk along the beach to West Bay, where the triathlon was being held. They got there just as the pro class splashed into the water for the first leg of the competition. Apparently, a bronze medallist from the Athens Olympics was participating, together with one or two other internationally ranked stars. Joe said the group looked pretty good. The open class was much larger and included people of varying skill levels and body types. David thought some of them looked pretty good, too, relative to how he was looking after four hours of sleep and a few too many beer.
David and Joe got back to the boat in time for a quick snorkel before Joe had to start packing for the flight home. We took him into town and waved as he got into a taxi bound for the airport.
"You know what I like best about Joe's visits?" David said as we turned back towards the beach. "It's his enthusiasm. He reminds us of all the good things about cruising that we tend to take for granted. It's refreshing."
"He also brings really good chocolate," Eileen added.