The Green Flash

The other green flash

Head forward, chin against the bar, look to the right, bright green flash, keep looking right, flash, flash, pause, flash, flash, flash, brain trying to distract and take me, flash, flash, away from this moment. Distract, distance, flash, float away… to snorkeling on the flash, flash, flash, reef on Roatan, with the incredible, flash, coral, and brilliant colored, flash, flash, flash, fish surrounding me…

It began on the reef. Roatan, the biggest island in the Bay Islands of Honduras is part of the 2nd largest reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef. It is a diving mecca. If you look at a map of diving sights on the island there is a red marker every few hundred yards all the way around the island. There are multitudes of buoys to tie a diving boat or dinghy to. Many local dive boats and dive shops all along the beach. The reef is awesome.

Paradise below

We are anchored in West Bay where there are tons of snorkeling spots just off the back of the boat. Heading around the island the next day and so wanted to explore one spot that involved a fairly long and bumpy dinghy ride. We tied to the mooring ball, applied the vaseline to the fur on top of the lip, put in the earplugs, put the anti fog drops in the mask, squeezed into the fins, and dropped over the side. Wonderfully clear water, with endless coral, and a gorgeous variety of multi colored fish. The walls go down deep so I wanted to keep following the beauty down. I have always have had trouble popping my ears and could feel pressure building in my head and behind my eyes, but nothing out of the ordinary. Great farewell snorkel. Flopped back onto Dark Star the dinghy and bounced back to Orion. 

Pier ing into the sea in West End Roatan

Later that night out of the right side of my vision I started seeing weird lightning type flashes every few minutes. Ruh Roh. Kind of watched those that evening and then the next morning woke up to a slight screen covering all of my right eye. Off to the internet, to read of retinal detachment, emergency surgery, and the various fears that a quick dive into the internet can create. Oh shit. Planning on sailing that day around the island to French Harbor, so gave things a little time to work themselves out. 

That night, the lights were still flashing. On the boat was Joe who seems to have at least one sister who is married to about every kind of professional that you could find. He hooked me up with the ophthalmologist in the family who said what I might have is PVD, where the vitreous gel that fills the eye separates from the retina, and that many people get with age and is not a problem, but that I should get it checked out. 

I don’t think of Roatan as the epicenter of medical excellence but the next day I did get hooked up with the one eye doc in town. He dilated the pupil and looked deep inside with the bright light and seemed to say in Spanish that there was nothing wrong and that I could go about my business. Just what I wanted to hear, because I really didn’t want to fly back home to get eye surgery, leaving Orion in Roatan. Crisis averted.

Looking for treats

Looking for that weather window to head back to Florida. Every day was going to be way windy for the first 24 hours, but with winds clocking to South of East so would be coming from a good direction. We listened to Chris Parker the weather guru, we checked Ventusky the wind app. We made our decision. Out at dawn on a straight line to the tip of Cuba. Then turn right to Florida and either go to the Dry Tortugas, Key West, or another day to Charlotte Harbor. 

Fast sail, lots of wind, boat heeled over the whole time. Big seas so always rolling back and forth and sometimes dropping off the face of a wave with a big shudder. Dale said he was never actually airborne in the front cabin, but close. 2 hour shifts, with 4 hours to lay around, and potentially try to sleep. 

Miles and miles of blue seas, white caps, rolling waves. 3 and a half days from Roatan West End to dropping the hook just off the coast guard station at Key West. Pretty damn good. Sailed almost the whole way except for the last few hours when we had to motor to make some easting as the wind finally eased. 

Should have turned to Starboard instead of Port!

Days later still hadn’t really recovered. Way more tired and beat up than I thought I had any right to be. Not as easy as when younger. When doing a long distance sail there is a constant sound of creaking and groaning and waves slamming that fills the brain. Slowly the tiredness takes over and sleep wins out, but just about then the alarm goes off for your 2 hour shift at 3am. No real rest as you sit in the cockpit  because you are always bracing yourself. Then when trying to sleep muscles continue to work as the boat rolls back and forth, back and forth. When I finally slept in a bed on land the first night the whole bed kept moving all night long as I tried to still the sensation. 

And overall noticing how the physical body is slowly falling apart. Every morning it’s up for a gentle session of stretching the back, moving the muscles, and easing into the day, but never quite getting back to that spry youthful flexibility. I used to spend a lot of time on the floor, dancing, and warming up for dancing, and have a body memory of finding stiff places and moving them to liquidity. Not so easy, or even possible any more. 

And it’s annoying god damn it. I talk to my buds about it and it’s a prevailing attitude. Scott says, “My ears have been ringing for the last five years since I went to an Alice Cooper concert and took out my earplugs. Bert, hasn’t been able to play guitar for 2 months because there is a nerve in his neck that is pinching something making his left hand not work right. Arghhhh. People looking much older as I see them for the first time in a while. The warranty expires at 60 it turns out.

Back in Florida with a new friend.

And what is the takeaway here. The higher evolved would say dance with it. Play within your limits and be fortunate for the physicality that you have had through your life. This is a normal part of aging. Be at peace and grateful. Then there is the 25 year old self that runs much of the program. Do what you used to do you old fart. Push it until it hurts and then go stretch it out and take some more ibuprofen. Fuck getting old, breaking down. It’s all bullshit. 

It’s frustrating, especially as something gets taken away. Gotta say not too excited about the long, bashing multi overnights on Orion. You gotta be in shape for that shit, and the place to get further in shape is not on a boat that is leaning way over, and slamming through 8 foot seas. There is not rest in that situation.

So back to Boulder and the eye still feeling weird. Went in to see the nice Doc who had the super cool equipment to look into my eyes, take the picture, look deeper, and lo and behold found a tear in the retina. She said I should get it fixed, today, now! She made an appointment with the specialist this afternoon. 

Hawksbill Turtle high atop a hotel in Roatan

Super pumped up competent guy reminding me of son-in-law Kevin the doctor, so I felt in good hands. He pushed and poked and and kept putting more numbing drops in the eye. Yes there is a horseshoe shaped tear on the right side of the retina. The fix is to fire lasers shots all around it to create a scar tissue dam so that fluid can’t get through the tear and behind the retina, which has about a 75% chance of detaching and perhaps leading quickly to blindness in that eye if it’s not taken care of. Holy shit! 

He puts some kind of monacle in my right eye to keep it jammed open and to keep from blinking and instructs me to lean into the machine. “This will be uncomfortable”. And here we go. Bright green flash, pause, look right, flash, pause, flash, flash. 


Laying now in the aft cabin. The sound of Otto the auto pilot groaning back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. About 90 miles from Cape St Antonio on the west end of Cuba. Then another 300 to Florida and Orion goes back on the hard for the hurricane season. 

1st leg, Roatan, then past Cuba.

Very short session this go round on the majestic lady.

When we left off I was getting ready to drop into the Guatemala City airport. Then into a waiting car for the six hour drive to the Rio Dulce. A long and winding road for sure. Old sailing friend Dale along for the ride, Elia headed back to Colorado. Planned on picking up Joe in Roatan for the long sail.

As we dropped down in elevation it got hotter, and hotter, and hotter.

Pulling into the marina was like a sauna at eight in the evening. Luckily the last time Elia and I were here we rented a little apartment that had air conditioning (and scorpions!) and so knew that was a possibility.

The next morning the work began. And holy shit, to borrow one of Elia’s favorite phrases, “it was fucking hot?!” The measure was how far the T shirt was soaked through before going back into the air conditioned luxury. Half sweat was a rough session. The worst was 7/8th sweat on a day when an American guy said the heat index was going to be 120 degrees. Drinking tons of water, but all came out as sweat, leaving the pee jar looking like molasses. 

Slowly Orion was coming together. The repaired–and paid for–bimini was missing, but finally Elmer found it in his shop, where it had been stashed for two years and flooded by 6 feet of water while the Rio rose in the hurricanes. Dale danced on the boiling deck to get the port running light straightened out. The batteries, it turned out, were toast. Luckily we were staying at a marina that had a West Marine connection for new, even better AGM beasts. Power we got in abundance. Did I mention money and sweat might need to be applied.

The dinghy motor started, the big motor started, Orion was splashed, we were floating, first on the dock, then on the hook. Soon it was time to head down the Sweet River.

We had time for a quick stop at a hot spring where boiling water flowed into the Rio Dulce bringing giggling Guatemalan tourists in little river cruisers. Quick walk up the hill led by the Spanish-speaking guide took us down a dark tunnel into the sweating caves. Didn’t stay long. No need to crawl into a steaming hot cave when I can open up the engine doors and peer into the bilge for a similar sensation. Back to the springs to float with little dead fish that swam too close to the source. 

Ferry, Rio Dulce style

Into Texas bay for a night of crazy lightning and rain. Beepers started going off. The bilge was filling. What? Where? Water gushing out of the broken pipe to the sink that also drained the scuppers. Hand over the pipe stopped the problem for the moment. My own version of the finger in the dyke. Make a plug. Stop it temporarily until it can be fixed. Another day in the boater’s life. 

Down the river to Livingston to do the checkout. And the long overnight motor to Roatan, in the bay islands of Honduras

Dropping in during the pandemic is quite strange, but then oh so familiar. The temperature check as you get off the plane. The rapid test done 72 hours before leaving even though we had the vaccine in the blood. Then the masks on where it makes sense. 

Joe and Dale. Motley crew indeed.

More and more getting a sense of how much this pandemic has taken out of places that rely so much on tourists. Roatan is a major diving location that used to see 3-5 cruise ships a day. Not one has been there since last March. They are hoping maybe in August. Many of the little cutsie shops are shut down, taxis sit idly by. Went to a deserted dive resort at Fantasy Island. that used to have 200 guests a night. Shut down for the last 15 months. Deserted splendor is quite bizarre. Wandering around in the Covid apocalypse felt strange, but we also felt weirdly and selfishly fortunate to not have to deal with all of the humanity of cruise shippers and mega tourists.

The entire island was closed down for 4-5 months. Some stores delivered food but nothing open. People broke, hungry, desperate. Word is there used to be lots of wild iguanas, but that most of them had been eaten in the last year. Also heard that many of the local reef fish were depleted because the people needed something to eat. And then there were 3 hurricanes to deal with.

A number of cruisers had been stranded for over a year, but seemed to have survived ok. Some very involved in helping the locals build playgrounds, fix up their places, and get back to normal. Many seeming a little dazed and not sure what to do next and seem to have forgotten how to sail or leave.


Captain Malcolm and (temporary, says Elia) first mate Dale.

Untethered again on Orion, with past and future seemingly in place, but a joyous feeling of non attachment to the where of the here and now. Simple joys of reading, writing, a little music, perhaps a snorkle, with maybe a structured activity involving the dinghy. Perhaps not. All very loose and wiggly.

The world untethered for the last year. Kind of like being in an earthquake where the very ground you stand on, count on, moves from under you. People build their lives based on some sort of structure, stability, continuance. And then bamm-oh. The deadly virus appears. Some people seem to have adapted well. Learned how to stay home, work from home, shop from home. Be social on the computer. Play music with the you tube. But as I travel away from the places where that can be easy it seems that for many this whole thing has absolutely shattered their lives. 

And watching how people react. It seems to have brought out various seemingly reptilian instincts of hiding, staying alone, going inside, escaping; I think for some accentuating a tendency that was lurking within. A withdrawal from a society that has gotten more and more out of control? It’s all such an individualized reaction, but there are trends. And the ongoing question of how will we all come out of it? What is the new health of humanity? Whatever it is, the forces now seem to be dividing us more that uniting us. Masks or not. Vaccines or not. Hiding or emerging. Fear or acceptance. Rich, Poor. Biden, Trump. 

Some tethers don’t seem so bad in retrospect.

And on we sail. Winds blowing 20 plus from the starboard quarter. Seas 6-8 feet. One reef in the main. Staysail up for the night. Hoping to catch the Yucatan current to speed us around the tip of Cuba and towards Florida. Orion creaks and groans as we rock from side to side. She’s happy finally getting back to normal doing what she was born to do.

Back In The Game

One chapter ends. Another begins. Headed back now to Orion. Day late, dollar short? Week late? No, a stinking year later than planned! Lost to the Covid, to the Trump, the masks, the paranoia, the misinformation, the madness and fear and absolute bizzarre-ness of the last year. For Orion just a lot of rain, heat and a couple of hurricanes to deal with. For the rest of us it’s been much more intense. 

So it’s back to to find out just what 2 years on the hard in Guatemala does to a boat. Will the engine start? Major question. Dinghy motor happy? Batteries good? Solar still working? Much could be wrong. But maybe all will be well with a little love and tenderness. My guess is that sweat and a few American dollars also might well need to be applied. 

And hard to drop into the future with so much of the past still in the mind.

The Other Boat

For now leaving Elia in our sweet little love nest in Gulfport FL, with the past winter composed of small victories of planting Avocados, Papayas, Guavas, Bananas, and much more. Planted a cocktail citrus tree with Valencia Oranges, Meyer Lemons, and Persian Limes all on the same tree. Who knew?  Even found a little (forgive me, Orion) motor boat, with a Huge Johnson to toodle around the Florida islands. Joined the Boca Ciega Yacht Club to fulfill at least some of my east coast yuppie fantasies. Lots of walks on the beach, Spades on Mondays, low stress times. 

In our personal tiny world a very laid low kind of year. Elia and I wed on Desoto beach in February with just the dolphins as witness. Then she back to Colorado in May, while I fly to Guatemala with Dale, an old traveling buddy from way back in the day to bring Orion back into shape and sail her back to Florida by way of Roatan (the Bay Islands of Honduras).

And what to take away from the last year. What can be said that hasn’t already been written. So much of my thinking around it is tied in with the idiot that used to be our president. Four years of ascending bullshit. Each week more insane than the last. And then in this last year, how many more people died than had to because of that one motherfucker. And how many people are still following his absurdity. Vaccines are getting easier and easier to come by, but then there are many people, not a few of them the same ones that decided not to wear masks, who aren’t going to get them. C’mon people. The answers all seem so obvious from where I sit. If not for yourself do it for the rest of humanity. Or If you don’t want yours give them to the people in Guatemala who are crying out for them. And so easy I find to rant and rave. Plugged in? Yes, I try to let it go.

And the little plane on the digital map is over Mexico, headed into Guatemala city. At this point Orion is a 2 year old memory and a blur of anticipation. All I can really write about is the recent past side of life. 

Just beginning to feel the joys of a post Covid world. I can feel Music, Art, and Humanity inching back. Gulfport/St Pete is full of incredibly talented musicians that are just starting to come out. Heard some Dead sounding tunes from my back porch and tracked down a party over a mile away, with an awesome Dead cover band. Walking through the tall trees, going where the wind blows, blooming like a red rose, breathing more freely, light out singing, I’ll walk you in the sunshine. Sunshine daydream. I smiled, I danced.

Turns out Gulport/St Pete is way more awesome than we had any idea. We first came here because there was a marina and boats and a cool little town, and mom was down the road in Sarasota. But as we have spent more time it turns out there is quite the scene. Tons and tons of art and music, brew pubs, young people, Dali Museum, Chihuly Museum, big public mural projects, huge shuffleboard courts (really), sailboats, kayaking. It certainly doesn’t have the topography of Colorado, really not much more than the kitchen table, but it does have  beaches and islands and cool little mangrove swamps and trails where you see alligators and sandhill cranes and wild pigs and the ability on any given night to watch a sunset with your bare feet walking a white sandy beach. 


Feeling quite lucky to have landed where we did for the winters. And always putting a shout out that there is room for more. Come on down. The houses are cheap. The weather is awesome (from November until May). Let’s play. 

So back to the here and now, which is in the space in-between, and above the lives. 

Tucked away in Delta flight 1810, seat 34A. Tampa to Guatemala City. 

Headed finally to the next adventure ONBOARDORION…


C’mon Guys

It’s April 1. And I’m talking about buying a nasty, ugly, funky, used up old boat. Tired of the peace and wanting to spend more money, and then pointing out how Elia would jump at the chance to live on a cockroach invested moldy death trap. 2 plus 2 equals 5? Something’s wrong here. Once again, it’s April Fools! Thanks for the enthusiastic responses of excitement for our new adventure, but it ain’t happening for sure. There will be no new boat this year. We love our Orion, who now sits quietly on the hard in The Rio Dulce, Guatemala.

Our newest roomate (On land)

Once you leave the isolated Cays of southern Belize the next stop on the cruisers highway is the Rio Dulce.The sweet river. To get into the river at Livingston you first have to navigate “The Bar”, the sandbar that crosses the mouth of the river. Word is that they don’t dredge it so that the locals keep their job of pulling sailboats across. There are plastic jugs with flags that reportedly are in the wrong spots to lead sailors into running aground so they call someone to tow them across. Tales of boats with 6.5 foot draft wait for the highest tide, then have someone tow them from the front, and another boat go alongside with a line from the top of their mast to heel them over and then drag them along the 200 yards of mud. Orion with her centerboard up and 4.5 feet to the bottom had no problem.

We clear in and then it’s into an entirely different world. For one we are motoring up a slightly murky fresh water river as opposed to sailing in the brilliant blue wide open seas we have been in for the last 4 months. There is no rolling from the waves, we are out of the wind and there is a current running against us. For the first 5 miles or so green walls rise straight up on both sides covered in exotic trees and bushes. We are definitely in the jungle. Egrets sit on the tree branches and the sounds of howler monkeys, tree frogs, prehistoric birds, and who knows what call out. The river winds back and forth dotted throughout with little thatched roof mayan houses and men and families in small boats going to and fro. There is no access by land for miles, so there is a stream of commerce with little dugout canoes, fishing skiffs, and tourists packed into small runabouts. About 10 miles in the river opens up to a large lake with volcanic mountains on either side. Finally we come around a bend and start to see masts, larger boats, small pockets of sailors, and finally the bridge at Fronterra. We made it!!!

The Rio Dulce

There are reportedly 1000 boats tucked away waiting out the hurricane season, or just waiting to die, in the Rio Dulce. There are good reasons. It is south of the hurricane track and at 20 miles inland, and mountains blocking the path of the winds there has never been a reported hurricane. Fresh water is much easier on all of the boat parts and many boats are left in the water for months or even years at a time. There are over a dozen little marinas, with everyone having a favorite. Tortugal, Tijax, Mar Marine, M and M, each with a little different reputation and flavor. Many have a restaurant or bar attached and offer Friday movie nights, or special cocktail hours. When compared to say Maine it’s about 1/3rd the price to store your boat, and even less to get work done.

The cruising community is well established with a large group of people living on their boats in the various marinas interspersed with sailors coming and going to Belize, and hiding from the hurricanes in the summer. There is a cruisers net at 7:30 on VHF 69 which announces movie night, trips to the jungle, and jams at the shack. A strong volunteer group is Pass It On which helps take giveaways from boaters, sells them at a swap meet, and uses all of the money to build solar energy systems for remote villages. Or Casa Guatemala committed to helping Guatemalan children.NNZB2900

Most of the locals in the Rio Dulce are Mayan. And from our perspective they seem incredibly at peace and happy. Lots of smiles and giggles in the boat yard. Tales of them watching the uptight foreigners come in and just kind of laughing at their stress. On the other hand time seems to take on a different quality. It is said that you can get stuff done cheap, done well, or done on time, but not all three. And the one that suffers most is the on time. There seems to be a desire to promise what someone wants to hear, but then get to it as is possible. People in the marina had been waiting there for months hoping to finally get their boat painted. Some frustration had built up.

The town of Fronterra kind of blew our minds after such a long peaceful time on the water. It’s a tiny town, with one main street that happens to also be the freeway. No bypass here. Full semi trucks crawl through town mere feet from where you join the parade of locals moving along along right up next to a chest high tire on an eighteen wheeler while dodging in and out of the traffic. Soldiers with long thin shotguns stand guard on various corners. Women dressed in traditional Mayan multicolored cloths, fruit stands,  loud horns, and diesel smoke fill the senses.

On a clear windlass day after about 10 in the morning it’s almost impossible to be outside doing anything productive as the temperature goes over 90 and the humidity thick. It’s fucking hot as Elia would so eloquently exclaim. The sun is fierce and cooks the decks. After being in constant trade winds for the last 4 months it takes a lot out of us and we spend the middle of the days hiding in the shade.

And then after a couple of weeks getting Orion set to leave, chasing howler monkeys up a creek at dawn, jamming at The Shack and The Sundog with the local jam nights, checking out the restaurants, meeting other cruisers, and joining in a sunrise Mayan ceremony on the spring equinox it was time to go. Turns out It’s a long way home.IMG_3870

A 6 hour bus ride gets you to Guatemala City. They offered us seats 3 and 4 which we thought was a great deal. Top floor of a two story bus all the way up front. It turns out the local don’t like to sit with nothing but a piece of glass between them and the oncoming madness. Seems they have been on these buses before. Then into the fringes of the city where we transfer to a packed smaller bus that can actually navigate the downtown streets. And into the traffic, and the noise, and the diesel smoke, and the full on city stretched thin by too many people and a crumbling inefficient infrastructure. Lots of motorcycles, and taxi’s, all moving fast and instantly filling any small gap in the traffic pattern. No idea where we are. Let out, and into a taxi that takes us to our little B&B by the airport.

The taxi driver knows where to go. Good thing because there is nothing on the outside showing that it is a business. All the houses on the street have concrete walls and solid gates with razor wire fencing on top. He rings the bell and a stately older man lets us in to a nice and clean little hotel. We mentioned we would like to get dinner somewhere. He walked us next door and knocked and an older man led us in to his dining room table and made us a delicious dinner. We sat and chatted with him about life in Guatemala City. All quite bizarre and sweet. Hidden behind the concrete walls of the city seems to be a kind and dignified culture, hiding from the speed, dirt, and crime that moves so quickly by outside.

In the morning it’s off to the airport, to Ft Lauderdale, to Denver, to the long drive up the hill and back into the house I’ve lived in for over 30 years. So very familiar.

From the bathroom window

And now to dealing with the transition. To the full life of money stress, of work, of music. One of the bigger problems now is how to deal with the mother and baby moose that have decided our garden is where the choice yummies are. We are back to our first world problems. So yes, this winter on Orion has come to a close. Where we will be when the the turning of the earth brings snow back to Colorado is still to be determined. There are many more islands in Belize to be explored. Roatan, off the Hondoran coast is an overnight away. The south coast of Cuba could be awesome. Or perhaps back to Florida to set up a more permanent winter base. All will unfold. But with all of our thinking and planning Orion patiently waits for our return. Enjoy the summer, see you next winter and thanks for reading.

See you next year!

Adios Orion?

It has become more and more obvious where the true joy of this sailing lifestyle lies. As Orion has gotten more and more of her systems fixed, faults repaired, and broken things working right, I am finding that a boredom is creeping in. There is lethargy. Snorkeling in crystal clear water, long walks through the jungle at dawn tracking howler monkeys. None of it seems to measure up to the satisfaction of replacing the macerator pump on the head, or the true reward of fixing the engine in the remotest of Mexican anchorages where failure would be a difficult prospect indeed. The joy is in the doing, not the being. The fixing, not the fixed.IMG_3899

This does come as a surprise I must admit. I would have thought that it would go quite the other way, and that as more systems are working correctly and need less attention, that I would be pulled to other pursuits. That I would take satisfaction in having a boat that runs well, looks sharp, is dependable, and that I made that way. That that would be enough. It seems not. It’s almost like with children, when they have finally grown into good god fearing adults and you long for those days when they were in constant need of tweaking and attention.IMG_3848

All that is to say that I have found that having a boat that works does not seem nearly as satisfying as having one that doesn’t. So in that vein I have decided to shop for a replacement for our dear Orion. One that will not only take my time, but fully challenge the limits of the checkbook. For of course not only is their incredible joy in the fixing of broken, worn out parts, but then there is the true satisfaction of spending money on her to bring her back to the level she was when new. West Marine is much like Mecca when you own a boat that needs work. Every aisle cry’s out with something that you could not do without. Then there are the joys of shopping online and having everything delivered to the boatyard and the Christmas like sensation of opening all those boxes. I’ve been missing that.IMG_3857

Lucky for us this new realization is hitting as we sit in the Rio Dulce in Guatemala. Tagline, “Where boats go to die”. And what makes this whole dream possible is that the people that own these once admirable ships actually think they are not worth much and so are willing to let them go for a song. Somehow they have gotten to the point where they think the work on the boat is the chore and the sailing is the joy. I’m glad I have moved past that dead end, and yet I realize that there are those that have not yet reached that level of consciousness. Thank God for the less evolved.IMG_3876

Then there is the sheer joy of looking at seemingly tired and used up boats to find that diamond in the rough. The pawing through the accumulated stuff in the cabins, scraping the mold off to find the true treasures of the bilge. The gamble you take when starting the engine. Will it turn over, and then if it does the question arises is the smoke coming out the back, black, blue, white, and what does that mean? The water in the bilge, the dripping fuel line, the blisters in the gelcoat,  all of which have lead the previous owner to want to walk away, only bring me closer to bliss.

I realize a lot of this new direction goes against conventional sailboat buying wisdom. One way that I plan on bucking the trend is to not get a survey, and not to bring in any “experts” to bring all of their negativity into  the dream,. Not to harsh on my mellow as it were. Many of the “experienced professional’s” look at a sailboat from a certain perspective based on their own and other peoples past successes and failures, and would restrict the thinking of what is possible. There is a feeling, a bond, that one can get with a boat. I plan to trust this completely.  I want the conversation to be between me and the new mistress. I’m finding that if I’m very quiet inside I can put my hands on the hull and feel where she has been, and if ours is a path that we should sail together.IMG_3847

They say the happiest days of a boat owners life are the day he buys his boat, and the day he sells it. I’m hoping both of those will be mine to experience soon. I’m looking forward to this next chapter. Orion has been a fine partner and we have brought her back from a sad state to one where she is proud and happy. As March turns into the beginning of April I can feel this new energy building. I suspect Elia won’t be as excited about this whole prospect as I am, so I’m thinking that I will surprise her when the deal is done. I just know how she loves surprises.IMG_3881 2


As you go through life there are many times when you look ahead and think that right around the corner is where it’s all going to happen, with the pot of gold and the promise in the brochure kept and your wildest dreams all coming true, We had been telling ourselves that about Belize. The possibilities were lining up. Most of the sailing is done behind a reef, so it knocks out the ocean swell. Everyone speaks English so it’s easy to get around. 2nd largest barrier reef in the world so the snorkeling would be excellent.IMG_3838

Anchored out off the west side of Ranguana Cay. Palm trees, check. White sandy beach, got it. Incredible snorkeling right off the back of the boat. Of course. Water as clear as gin. A 2-3 hour sail from a really fun town. No other islands in sight. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, but then tomorrow we hope to sail for another couple of hours to it’s cuter sister. Seems we have made it.

It’s all so good when it’s good. Lot’s of sailing can feel a lot like “ahem” work. When you have to cover 200 miles in 3 days, wind blowing the wrong way, swells coming from 3 directions at once, squalls popping up when they weren’t expected to, ground appearing where there should be water, pulling into places that are not fully as advertised, it can make you a little crazy. So when it happens the way it’s supposed to it’s glorious.

img_3833.jpegMaybe be the best part is what’s happening under the surface. Snorkeling these reefs is a magical experience. Purple fans, elk horn reaching to the surface with monstrous green and yellow brain coral, orange sponges, long tentacles all swaying gently with the current. In and out float the Grouper, Angelfish, Parrotfish, Jacks and Snappers. Mr. Lobster scrunched into his little hole in the rock dares me to try and grab him. Orange starfish and a slowly moving Conch with Nurse Sharks,Turtles and a Barracuda lazing by all keeping an eye on us, and seemingly comfortable with our monstrous sized human forms peering into their world. From the deck of Orion we see flying fish soaring 30-40 feet, drifting on their “wings” before dropping back to their world. And then there are the porpoises. Elia calls out, Dolphina, Dolphina and they come closer to check us out as we do the same.

Most stylish boat in the harbor

The natives along the coast have a long relationship with the sea. There are the local fisherman in their funky homemade sailboats, one big sail and long boom, piled high with dugout canoes. 7 guys on one boat, all sleeping under a slapping blue tarp to get up early and go out  to fish in their little cayukos, and then back to the mother ship which gets covered with hanging laundry at night. A Rasta looking fellow who built his own catamaran out of old paddle boards, chunks of foam, and a scrounged sail from a windsurfer, proudly sails standing through the harbor.  Dugout canoes, reinforced with fiberglass are everywhere. One old scrawny guy fills his with sand to just below sinking, and shuttles it over to an ever-growing pile on a far away beach. Then back to do it again in the scorching midday sun. Long fiberglass skiffs with large fast motors blast through the anchorage taking divers out to the reef, ferrying people back and forth, the pickup trucks of the Belizean sea.

IMG_3825Along many of the beaches facing east sargasso sea weed blows in and piles up giving off a strong distinctive stink. Wind always out of the east so blows anything in the water eventually up onto the beach. We dinghied in to South Long Cocoa Cay and took a walk around. The South side was all ready for a conference with lots of little bungalows on stilts. Beautiful view. Large harbor. Talked to the caretaker who said Yanni was going to be the next guest. Peaceful hideaway indeed. And then the walk to the north side. Along the breakwater were phenomenal piles of plastic and washed up trash. Somehow some shoe manufacturer or recycler dumped their load because there were over a few hundred random pairs of new and worn and crocs, sneakers, sandles. Random garbage weirdness. And always the plastic. Broken down bottles, caps, a toys r us trike. All wedged in between the built up coral breakwater. Would be incredibly hard to cleanup if someone even gave it a go. But the damn plastic does last and does float, and does end up on these shores, and if it’s not a place where people are paying money for it to be shiny it accumulates. Sad and disturbing.

IMG_3818Cay Caulker in the north is an island accessed by a 1 hour water taxi ride from Belize City with a funky laid back vibe, and a focus on keeping the tourist entertained, with diving trips to the reefs, swimming with the sharks, snorkeling off the boat, and trips to see the ruins, Lots of 20 somethings hanging out, checking each other out in their bathing suits and puffy red skin, listening to the thump thump of the island rhythm at night. All dirt streets with an anchorage off the west side far enough out to only slightly hear the diesel engines generating power for the island 24/7. A few good restaurants, some nice sandy floored bars, a safe anchorage for sailboats, swaying palms, friendly locals. Many little stands selling local crafts, with sweet Mayan ladies offering beadwork and fabrics from Guatamala, and small grills setup along the street offering chicken, sausages, and local delicacies.

Placencia sidewalk 30 years in the making

Down south the main cruiser hub is Placencia. Great protected anchorage with a friendly scene. Yoli’s bar is where you bring in your dinghy, chat with the other sailors and play poker during the afternoon to escape the heat of the midday sun, and compare tales of places been. Cruisers wander throughout the town as well as a decent number of international tourists hanging for a week or a winter. Some money is coming in leading to nicer restaurants, crowded beach bars, cleaner hotels, and nice shops, all with a very small town feel. Our favorite daily stop was Tuttit Frutti’s, owned by an Italian couple who whip out homemade gelato that almost brought us to tears. The main walking path through town is a slightly elevated cement sidewalk that was reportedly 30 years in the making. We were there in the dry season but word is that it rains over 120 inches a year and so getting off the ground is probably a great idea.

The biggest draw in this part of the country is the hundreds of islands, or Cay’s all along the coast. The reef is 10-40 miles off the mainland with little islands throughout. Some are just little Mangrove bursts, others have resorts with white sand, palm trees, a small boat harbor all surrounded by stunning turquoise waters. Lots of places to just drop the hook and dive off the back of the boat to explore the coral and be alone in paradise. We have spent a month here and feel like we have only scratched the surface.

Slowly we are working on putting Orion away again for the hurricane filled summer. For us there is cleaning up to do, and the thinking of life back in Colorado enters more into the mind and the conversations. The plan is to head up the Rio Dulce in Guatemala and leave her in trusted hands. There is a cruising oasis there with excellent marinas that offer a safe and cheap place to leave her that is out of the hurricane zone. And the awesome thing is that it is only a 2 day sail back into the heart of paradise for next years adventures to begin. Unbeliezable!IMG_3819

Why Does It Always Happen At Night?

The plan was to move south from Isla Mujeres overnight then into San Pedro Belize the next day. Beautiful easy sailing day within a half mile of Cancun, Playa Del Carmen. We stay close in to the reef to avoid the nasty current in the deep water, and fly by Tulum as the sun slips away in a  gorgeous sunset with a light evening breeze. As we worked our way east to get around the point the wind picked up. We were getting overpowered and needed to start the engine. As I started her up something didn’t feel right. I looked down at the temp and it was up to 225. Way hot. Have to shut it down. Jib partially in. Reef on the right feeling closer but pitch black so can’t see a thing. Depth going from a comfortable 80 feet to 30, to 25, to 20. Needing to get some speed to get by the reef, but have to to stay up wind. They call that clawing off a lee shore. I call it fucking hairy. Sailing another hour then in through a cut in the the reef and then downwind into a semi safe anchorage all in the dark. Shirt soaked in sweat. No motor to set the anchor. Wind howling. Sail in, drop her down, and hope she holds. Hard to sleep in the rolly incredibly deserted and off the map anchorage not knowing if I will be able to get the engine to start in the morning.

Street murals everywhere is Isla Mujeres

The weird and disoriented thing at night is that you don’t have any visual reference points. And usually when something goes wrong it is brought on by a squall, or an increase or shift in the wind. Much of the time it appears suddenly. The squall winds blow seemingly from all directions at once. All you have to go in is your electronics, wind speed and direction, chart plotters. You can’t look out and line anything up. All of the sides in the cockpit are rolled down to keep the rain out. You are in this weird little dark, sweaty, loud, moist, scary bubble staring at electronic numbers and pointers trying to figure out what to do.IMG_3774

Cayo Levisa, Cuba. Sweet little peaceful anchorage. Got in close to shore to have more protection from the cold front coming in, but anchored in grass. Went in to use the internet and came out to see the boat dragging and ending up just yards from the mangroves in a 30 knot wind from the south. Sped out in the dinghy to drive her back out, and reset the anchor, heart beating fast. As the sun set, as predicted the wind swung west and then from the north. Started picking up big time with pounding rain, lightning. 30 knots, 35. Orion’s bow pushed over to one side, tracking until brought up and then back the other way. Everything loud and rattling. All of my attention on the little circle on our anchor alarm that shows if we are staying put. At 42 knots the picture jumped. We were dragging. Start the engine and try to drive strait into the wind to keep us from being blown across the bay. Way too much wind to try and bring in the snubber and the anchor. Locked into our little plastic enclosed cockpit with no real sense of reality other than what is on the screen on the ipad and the feeling of playing a video game to keep the boat in the circle while all hell is breaking loose around us. Hours later if dropped back below 30 and the anchor held. That night 65 miles east of us in Havana there was the largest tornado in over 75 years.

The Captain playing at Skull’s Landing, Isla Mujeres

Then just last night. Tennuriffe atoll 8 miles off the coast of Belize. The problem with Belize is that the charts suck. They provide some information but then spotty information can be worse than none at all. The main chart book everyone uses was written in 2006. The Navionics electronic charts are incredibly vague. And behind the reef we are regularly in water that is just a couple of feet deeper than our keel. At any rate. Coming through a fairly narrow cut in the reef that by all accounts should have been strait forward. As we went through there was a scraping sound meaning we knocked into coral, a rock, or something that wasn’t supposed to be there. Then into the lagoon. Crawling along in 5 and a half to 6 feet of water. Finally stopped and set the anchor. Wanted to get around behind an island but water was skinnying up fast. As we sat still a local guy came by and told us we could go around a shoal to get to a more sheltered place. I’m always trying to get a little better spot, so we pulled up the anchor, followed him around, and ran hard aground. Dinghy couldn’t push us off, anchor out in the sand couldn’t pull us off. Sitting sideways to the wind banging loudly up and down until about high tide at 3 am, when I finally got us nudged into deeper water. Next day waited for the tide to lift us 6 inches to give us the best chance to get back out the cut in the reef that was not visible at all from this angle. Shows on the charts and can see where we came through from out chartplotter track but as we get closer it looks hairy. Waves building up. At some point the only move was to head in, crunch through some more coral, and finally out. Very glad to have a thick skinned solid fiberglass battleship of a boat. A very scary, intense, sleepless, nervous 24 hours .

Awesome homemade catamaran.

There are times it’s like that. Situations that can end very badly if you either make a bad decision, or circumstances conspire. And that gets balanced with sitting here now behind Water Cay at sunset, grill churning out chicken, Elia cooking up the yummies and all utterly calm and peaceful. So what’s the takeaway. One is to be more and more respectful and prepared for things to go wrong. Build in a larger safety margin. Have redundant redundancy in the systems. Always have a plan B, and then C in the back of the mind. And know that it’s all part of the boating lifestyle. Things will breakdown, screwup, and there is are certain times where that can mean a life threatening situation. Be as prepared and vigilant as possible.

And then there is always the question, Are We Nuts? I’ve seen three cruise ships go by in the last hour from Belize City, and there is a part of me that envies the ease and lack of responsibility involved. They end up on a lot of the same little islands that we do. The same streets in the cities. And  they don’t spend any time whatsoever wondering if their little home will end up on a reef in the middle of the night. But then they pass by with there 3000 peers leaving us all alone with the stars and the quiet and the answer is clear.

Elia’s people

Our Man In Havana

Dropping into Havana is like entering into some bizarre time warp of cultural clashes. Chevy’s and Fords from the 40’s and 50’s, Russian Lada’s, Chinese compacts, horse drawn carts, overflowing buses spewing diesel, brave darting pedestrians, all moving together doing the dance of the city through crumbling buildings and loud city streets from the last 500 years.IMG_3666

Downtown are forts from the 1600’s, churches from the 1800’s. There is classic european beauty with ancient Spanish stone architecture, gorgeous courtyards in downtown buildings that house art, sculpture, old wooden furniture, beautiful tropical plants. Then signs of the  architectural push of the Americans through the early to mid 1900’s, and on to the USSR, with it’s stark strait lines and strange Soviet era towers dotting the coastline, keeping a watchful eye on the waters.IMG_3651 (1)

Cuba was “discovered” by Columbus, and was mostly built and settled by the Spanish. In the early 1900’s the Cubans fought for their independence, got help from the US, and so opened themselves up to an ongoing American influence and an infinite American presence in Guantanamo Bay. As Cuba prospered along came lots of mob ties and sugar money which helped to line the pockets of Batista, making the rich richer, and the poor poorer. This situation provided a breeding ground for Fidel and Raul and Che and the revolution, with hopes of medicine and schooling for all and a turn to the Soviets for backing. When the USSR crumbled in the early 90’s, over $4 billion in yearly payments stopped and things went to hell.

In downtown Havana they have decided that the path forward is through tourism, and that the best way to attract the ATM machine that is the foreign tourist is by making downtown shine. Some areas have been brought back to their former glory with brightly painted walls, refreshed wooden doors, shutters, and quaint cobblestone streets. Others are in process, being readied behind 15 foot high corrugated metal walls that give a promise of things to come. For much of the 1900’s Cuba was the most prosperous nation in the Caribbean. It has good bones.IMG_3633

Warm and friendly people were everywhere we went. Downtown and in the small towns all are out walking the streets during the daytime, plastic shopping bags in hand as they return with the days groceries. All feeling very safe with lots of kids around, women walking alone, no need to be fearful. And then dinner time comes and the streets are empty and silent with everyone together inside. Our new buddy Andre takes me to his friends house to change some american money into CUC’s. “Will he be home?” I ask. “Of course, it’s dinner time in Cuba”.

There is a conflicting combination of pride and anger from the people. They love the country. They hate the government. They get the free medicine, free school but are paid hardly anything to work in the office jobs that they were schooled for. So they work in the black and semi black market. Doctors driving taxi’s, changing money. “I can get anything for you. What do you need?”IMG_3652

The downtown central squares have been designated as WiFi hotspots, where people young and old congregate not to interact, but to stare at their phones under the Banyan trees. $1.50 gets you an hour of decent service. Just buy a card and plugin the code. Strange twist on the use of public spaces, bringing everyone together in isolation. The internet is open but there is no access for American money. Credit cards issued from American banks won’t work. Can’t go on pay pal or even the Apple store to pay for something while in Cuba. Bring your stack of cash.

IMG_3667The retail stores are bizarre. They are run by the government and seem to get a truckload of whatever it is they are selling at a time and put it all out on the shelves at once, with no seeming rhyme or reason as to what any store might have. There are stacks and stacks of exactly the same dishwashing soap in yellow, and then in green, and then red. We saw one pile of about 100 dustpans and little brooms in a little market. But then we went shopping for vegetables and it was great, as long as you wanted what they had. Most are sold in little carts on the side of the road, or in somebodies front yard with a table outside. We found huge cabbages, green peppers, tomatoes, onions, and more all at way less than they would at home. Or possible of course to get a fresh chunk of pork or chicken, cut from the pig and hanging out in the hot Cuban sun. We weren’t that brave.IMG_3624

And then there are the cars. There are old american classics from the 40’s, 50’s, and early 60’s everywhere you look. Most of the engines have been replaced by diesels, but the bodies and the interiors on many are cherry. Pink, lime green, shining chrome, beginnings of tail fins. They cost more than a house would cost in Havana because the drivers use them to make a real wage as taxi’s and tour guides. Many europeans off the cruise ships are seen sitting in the back seat of the pink convertibles with their selfie stick extending the phone to document their ride through downtown Havana.IMG_3646

Musicians on many corners. Mostly one guy with a guitar playing Chan Chan and his buddy scraping the gourd for rhythm. Heard that song at least a dozen times a day. But then as we dug a little deeper found an excellent Cuban Jazz quartet. Intricate conga player with the wood block on the foot pedal. Acoustic bass turned backward to reverberate the sound off the stone pillar behind. Acoustic steel string guitar player with wild eyes and a lifetimes worth of Cuban sounds in his fingers. And through the cuban melodies I heard the jamming sounds that I know so well. At some point they dropped into Tequila, and it could have been us in Glenn’s shop in Jamestown. Elsewhere a young, small, sad eyed earnest teenager moved into a space near an outside dining area and started belting out Cuban ballads. Sang a half dozen songs, and passed the hat. They do all pass the hat. Caught his eye later counting the bills and he gave me a thumbs up sign. Could have been Ethan. Elia and I joined a pair in a bar, sharing blues riff’s, she harmonizing, me tapping out rhythm with a spoon on the coffee cup. Impromptu song of American’s from Colorado. Our gifts were guitar strings from America.IMG_3689

The only place to bring a sailboat is into Marina Hemmingway, about 15 miles west of downtown. When it was built  in the 50’s it would have been impressive with 5 rows of canals for boats, tennis courts, restaurants, and a bowling alley ,built for the affluent and to lure the american yachts. But now it is crumbling and tired. Word is a few years ago it was quite full with Americans finally getting to bring their boats to Cuba. But then he who shall not be named seems to have decided that since Obama had opened the door he should close it back up and has made it much harder for American boaters to visit. Cuba could really use the dollars from the American tourists. It doesn’t need the KFC, McDonalds, Starbucks strip mall  bullshit that seems to come with American “investment”, but it could sure use some sailors coming in, drinking some beers and eating in the restaurants.

As we left the city to sail west the landscaped turned into mountains and greenery. Gorgeous empty land. We ended up at a bay where they were recycling ships. Then into another where there is an “eco tourist” lodge on a tucked away island. Endless sand beach, little palapas, a ferry comes to drop people twice a day from the mainland. Tourist’s from many countries other than the US milling about. Nice to get out of the city and back to bare feet, white sand, and a book enjoyed under a palm tree.IMG_3618

Key Weird

Key West . A multi hued tapestry of tourists, partiers, military, old crusty Florida hippies, gay boys and girls, sailors, hustlers, locals, street performers and musicians. The end of the line. Where all congregate to celebrate the sunset each night from Mallory square, and from the piers, rooftops, and waterfront bars, focused on the final moment as the great orb spreads into the sea, all waiting for the elusive green flash.

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Sunset from Mallory Square.


Beautiful classic southern architecture, with balconies overlooking the streets, wide front porches, shutters for the windows, tucked away behind the palms and and mossy tentacles that fall from the trees. Many old moldy run down wood paneled fixer uppers in the waiting. Banyon trees stretching wide, limbs out with hanging vines reaching for the ground to turn into new trunks.

Earnest Hemingway in the bars, the names. Over 100, 6 toed cats, descended from his famous feline at the Hemingway house where he wrote many of his classics. He drank here, he stayed there. Pictures on the walls of bars of him drinking, fishing, carrying on. White haired, bearded Hemingway contest looks alikes on the street. Elia says I should grow the hair, grow the beard, get the steely eyed stare and embrace the man, the writer, the drinker, the womanizer. Maybe she means just the look.img_3640

Much inebriation on all sides, at all hours. Thankfully we missed New Years eve by a few days, but as they say on the T shirt, “You can’t drink all day if you don’t start in the morning”. In paradise for only a few days, many waste no time.

Money being extracted from the tourists in many creative ways. From far away the para gliders hang their victims off the  back of their boats  and float them in the breeze. Sunset cruises abound on old schooners, Catamarans, Sweet Janes Island Charter. Catch the deep sea Tuna or the Marlin and proudly match your wits against a poor defenseless fish that didn’t even know there was a confrontation to prepare for. Tiki huts built on rafts motoring throughout the anchored boats. Snorkel out off the packed boat to the murky key. How many tourists can you pile onto a Catamaran, while jacking the reggae as you go past the anchorage. All you can drink, all you can drink, all you can drink. Stumble back to your hotel, or to the late night streets of Key Weird. Restaurants and bars throughout downtown. Packed on New Years week. All the tourists flying in, staying at the hotel, the inn. Eating out, drinking out. Spending the green, yes siree. The American way.

Many options for drinking! Orion in the background on the hook

A different style of boating community than we are used to. Small interactions among boaters, but many with only a slight wave as they go by on their Carolina Skiff to work in the morning. There are regular cruisers but it seems hard to connect with them. No VHF net in the morning. No central place to hang. Very few of us, compared to the affordable housing members of Key West, that bought Bubby Joe’s boat for $500 and keep it anchored out with a long dinghy ride to town. Sails blown out, motor doesn’t work but one way to live cheap in paradise.

Forts abound on the Florida coast. Imposing structures mostly built for the short lived Spanish American war. Most never had a shot fired. You can take an all day ferry ride to the Dry Tortugas for $200 to see Fort Jefferson or go to Fort Zachary Taylor state park on the tip of the island.  Lots of american military dollars and might. Guns that can shoot 32 miles out and over the horizon in 1896. Keep the enemy hopping. Immigration control old school. We don’t need no stinking wall!

Tourists of all flavors regurgitated from the cruise ships daily. Pulled up along Mallory square, leaving by sunset. Italians, French, Japanese, hard to say where else, but all with the pasty overfed, hungover glaze of the one week vacation a year, get it all in at once in a week in paradise before going back to “reality”img_3570

Old crusty florida types. Elia calls them “my people”. Bearded, deeply dark and wrinkled crusty as all get out, living on the boats, hanging in the streets. Seem to have an inner circle. They shout out to each other as they stumble by. Yo Bro.

And then the music. Ah yes. The Green Parrot, Sloppy Joes, The Bull, Sunset Pier, and on it goes. All free. No cover charge. And the beauty for this old man of the sea is that it starts with a 5:30 sunset set. Done by 7:30. Home for sup. Bed by nine. Some of our favorites. Billy And The Squids. Skinny funny looking guy, tight pants, hair slicked back, blowing lonesome harp and singing the cowboy boogie Hank Williams classics. The Whores. Playing anything for a tip proudly. Here’s a ten, play Sweet Caroline. Open to stopping for $11. It stops. Open to starting for $12. Back and forth until some guy gives them $100 to play the whole song, if they let his Mary sing with them for her birthday. All funny as hell especially to the more inebriated at Sloppy Joes. Many bars with a singer and single guitar and some mild electronic backup. Blues, some Jimmy Buffett, some just background tourist music, others truly talented. Found a Dead Jams cover band that was excellent. I watch the bass.The test is Eyes Of The World. He nailed it. And he brought a fast, funky, approach to Bertha, to Rider. Kind of a Vulfpeck Joe Dart bass into Dead tunes. We talked after the show. They do over 300 shows a year. Also plays in a funk band, an island Jazz band. Made me head back to the boat to work on the elusive eighth notes on my fender.

Christmas Florida style

And then as always it’s time to go. Maxo off on a bus to Ft Lauderdale, to Costa Rica. We’re on the Key West Transit Blue line to Publix to shop big for the upcoming dearth of supplies. Last night treat of the second round of the Dead band on the sunset pier, dancing to Shakedown Street, and a wonderful funkified “You’ve Got To Serve Somebody to end the set, and then off for the overnight to Cuba. Great time in Key West. Long enough to feel it. Short enough to appreciate it. On to the next adventure.