Waiting on Weather to Sail to Panama: Guanaja & Cayos Cochinos, Bay Islands, Honduras

A SailWinterlude Photo Essay recounting our adventures in the Cayos Cochinos and Guanaja, easternmost of the Bay Islands, where we waited impatiently for a weather window to sail to Panama.  Enjoy!

Unlike the last update, some days are just made for sailing! Earlier this week, we were rudely awakened in the Cayos Cochinos (Hog Islands) at 3:30 AM to a nasty west swell & no wind. Imagine a wave pool with 3 foot waves under your bedroom floor! By daybreak the other 8 boats anchored in the Cayos National Park had departed. Winterlude was the only idiot left. We had hoped to spend some time in the Cayos Cochinos … a BEAUTIFUL picture perfect group of islands, some are only a patch of sand with a couple of swaying palm trees. Cayos is where all the picture postcards of beaches originate! Two different film companies were on different islands making tv show “Survivor” knockoffs, one Italian & one Colombian. But altho’ it was a picture perfect day, the swell was untenable & we pulled up anchor without a clue where we’d end up, both of us just desperately wanted OUT!! Note, this was just a miserable situation, no scare factor, just uncomfortable.
Ultimately we needed to make easting to get to Guanaja, the easternmost of the Bay Islands of Honduras, where we planned to wait on a weather window to head to Panama. The wind filled from the west & we decided just to sail & see where we were a couple of hours later… keep in mind at 5 knots, we’re not going anywhere fast! But all of a sudden we were doing 7 knots in almost FLAT seas! YIKES, perfect sailing! We pointed the bow at Guanaja, still over 40 miles away & calculated that with a bit of luck we could get in through the reef before sunset. We also calculated our fallback position, we could turn north with 10 miles to go & get to Barbareta before sunset for sure. So away we flew, accompanied by a multitude of flying fish & sparkling inky blue ocean. By 4:30 PM, we were making our way through the reef & anchored safely in Guanaja, the 17th boat to anchor in El Bight! That’s a record number of boats in El Bight, apparently lots of people are looking to head to Panama!!! We made the almost 50 miles, a normal 10-12 hour trip for Winterlude in 7 hours WITH FLAT SEAS!!! WOW!!!

El Bight Anchorage in Guanaja, Bay Islands – Winterlude is just off center to the right back a bit in the photo

BTW, the anchorage, El Bight, is named El Bight for a reason, David sustained at least 8 mosquito bites while dropping anchor!!! YIKES! Since then, we’ve been better about making sure our bug screens are in & that we keep cruisers perfume (Off Family Spray) on at all times… it’s a pain to put it on after a shower, but necessary. Now we just hope that one of those 8 mosquitoes that already bit David didn’t have Dengue Fever which seems to be making a comeback. Dengue (pronounced Den-GAY) is a serious disease that, unlike malaria, cannot be treated other than trying to lower the fever & reduce the aches & pains a bit. There’s a 2 week incubation period, so far so good!

During the couple of days we were in the Cayos Cochinos, we were able to hike to the top of the small mountain on Cayos Grande for a 360 degree view of the islands. WOW doesn’t begin to describe it, but like with everything, it comes with a story! 70 ladder rungs straight up inside a totally enclosed dark airless claustrophobic steel lighthouse!  Rainforest, jungle, not sure what you’d call it, angled up a mountain! The vegetation was much like our last jungle hike, huge gumbo limbo trees, palms of every imaginable kind AND, as an added plus, the Cayos Cochinos islands are the ONLY place in the world where the endangered PINK BOA CONSTRICTOR is still living

We kept an eagle eye on the sunny crooks in trees where boas might be napping, but weren’t lucky enough to spot one … I think David was glad! I wanted a photo, but oh well… What people didn’t tell us was that after hiking for an hour, mostly with a substantial incline, we wouldn’t be able to see ANYTHING when we arrived at the lighthouse. The ONLY way to take in the spectacular views was to climb the lighthouse 70 rungs straight up in a dark claustrophobic steel tube….. Billy, you would NOT have liked this part!!!

I almost chickened out & then started to climb, one rung at a time. Upon reaching the top, my eyes just level with the hatch, the views were beyond belief. It struck me that in order to actually TAKE a photo, I was going to have to climb through the hatch & stand on the small circular platform. This platform did have a rail & was maybe 10 feet diameter. Hmmm… had to think about it for a minute or two, then tried hoisting myself out the hatch. Moments later, I was rewarded by the incredible views of the mountains of mainland Honduras, Roatan to the north, Guanaja to the northeast & even Utila to the west. Unfortunately, I could also feel the lighthouse sway with the wind. By this time, David had climbed up also & wondered … was the lighthouse REALLY swaying, or was it his imagination… nope, it’s really swaying. Time to head back down! 🙂 Luckily it wasn’t really windy that day!!

View of the National Park Mooring Field from the Top of the Lighthouse

Hiking back down the mountain, we took a wrong turn somewhere. Keep in mind, this is NOT like a national park trail in the U.S., sometimes the path just vanished & you’d have to poke around in a large area to pick it up again. Luckily, we had made arrangements to go to lunch with a group of friends from the other boats at 2 PM & if we didn’t show, they knew we’d been hiking earlier, hopefully they’d come looking for us. We also had our VHF, but it didn’t seem to be transmitting well from the wrong side of the mountain. After a grueling 15 minute climb back up something we should have NEVER climbed down (note: Jan’s fault, not David’s!), we made it back to our last known position & then back to the boat… just in time too because everyone else was already being picked up for lunch!

A delightful German couple, Wilfred & his wife, live on a tiny islet with lots of sand & a few palms just west of Cochinos Menor (Little Hog Island). For $10 per person, they will pick you up in their launcha, take you to their island where you enjoy great german food for either lunch or dinner, hang out in their hammocks in the shade of the palms & enjoy the water colors … or snorkel if you want. Then whenever, they’ll return you to the boat. It’s about a 15-20 minute launcha ride & a great way to spend an afternoon. At 5 PM, we were all invited to Eagle Nest, the home of Hoss & Lori, expatriats that live in Cayos Grande. The sunset view from their deck is not to be missed & we got some great sunset photos overlooking the boats at anchor, plus a great time telling tall tales … imagine that, sailors telling tall tales! 🙂

Cayos Cochinos Looking Toward Mainland Honduras and LaCeiba

Other than that, we’ve been busy, of course … oh, almost forgot … snorkeling in the Cayos Cochinos was phenomenonal! One afternoon, David was behind me as I was trailing two giant Ocean Triggerfish – and unknown to me, a Sharksucker came up & attached himself to the bottom of my fin!!! The Sharksucker was about a foot long & is just what it sounds like, a fish that attaches itself to sharks as a cleaner fish. Luckily I didn’t notice or I might have freaked! I guess he cleaned my fin & detached, or maybe it was too clean for his taste, who knows!

David, along with Greg from sv Lonestar Love and a Laguna Marina/LaCeiba employee get the 8D batteries out so we could replace them with Trojan T105s.

Along the way we stopped for five days in LaCeiba on the Honduras mainland. Our main battery bank is over five years old & just wasn’t holding a charge … trouble is, we have all gel cell batteries & the only thing available in Central America seems to be wet cells… Trojan Golf Cart Batteries are the battery of choice! Since they’re 6 volt, we had to buy twice as many, but amazingly, six of them fit into the space of our 2 8D gel cell batteries. The good news a boat buck later is that now we have 750 amps available in the house bank instead of our old 450 amps!   WOOHOO, that just means we have more amps to fight about!

So now we’re sitting in ElBight along with all the bugs … there’s a norther predicted overnight tonight followed by another on Sunday night. So we’ll sit tight for awhile until we can get a weather window to make the 150 mile passage to the Vivarillos … this will be a challenging passage… it’s one of the most dreaded of any in the NW Caribbean because it’s 150 miles due east into the easterly tradewinds. The weather window everyone hopes for is either flat calm winds, 1-2 ft seas or the backside of a weak norther to catch the wind still blowing from the north, but then you have to deal with the larger sea swells. We had the perfect flat calm the last 2-3 days, BUT the Vivarillos have no protection in a norther, many of these islands are only itty bitty flat pieces of sand with palms that run north & south, real protection only from the east. So with the northers coming this weekend, we decided it was better to wait.

Jan & David, s/v Winterlude, 16 27.280 N 85 52.233W


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