It’s been a long time since I updated this blog. Instead, I have been posting our cruising adventures on Facebook. However, some don’t use Facebook, so as we begin a new cruising itinerary, I’ll come back to this website to post.Sunshine at the dock

After three years spending our winters based at Mango Marina in the Rio Dulce, we decided it was time to move on.  So, on January 26th, we untied the dock lines and headed north to Mexico.


We took our time sailing up the Yucatan coast, traveling by day and anchoring at night.  Our favorite place in Belize is a little island called Caye Caulker.  We anchored in the bay and spent a month enjoying the slow pace, great restaurants, beautiful beaches and friendly people

Caye Caulker at night

This aerial shows Caye (pronounced “key”) Caulker at night. If you look closely, you can see sailboats anchored in the bay.








We don’t like overnight passages if we can help it, so we discovered some new places to anchor.  One of them was the little village of Majahual (below), at the southern tip of Mexico.


This photo shows the cut in the reef at Majahual, an overnight stop on the mainland of Belize. Since we could find no charts to show us the entrance, Google Earth came to our rescue with an aerial photo that clearly showed the way in.



Oscar's Surfboard

We moved slowly up the coast of Belize then Mexico, finally arriving at Oscar’s Marina on Isla Mujeres, a small island about five miles from Cancun, on April 24th.







Now, we wait for a weather window to make the three to four day crossing to Key West.  We hope to be traveling with two other boats.


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Indiana to Guatemala

We take two days to get back to the boat in the Rio Dulce region of Guatemala.  The first leg of the trip, from Indianapolis to Guatemala City, takes about eight hours, including a layover in Houston.  We spend the night in Guatemala City and then travel six hours by bus to the Rio Dulce.

The bus ride is always interesting and sometimes downright scary.  The buses are fairly comfortable, not chicken buses.  Our bus was not new but the engine sounded normal and the brakes worked well, which would prove very important later in the trip.  The air conditioning wasn’t working but the temperature was pleasant.

The first half of the trip is through the mountains, which is always a white knuckle experience for me.  However, on this trip road construction kept our speed between “barely moving” and “a little faster,” so I wasn’t complaining.  The drivers normally drive faster than I like on that part of the trip. 

As we left the mountains the road became flat and straight, and the driver took the opportunity to make up the time we lost in the mountains.  We were cruising pretty fast and both Phil and I were close to nodding off.  Suddenly, our driver slammed on the brakes.  The bus skidded and shuddered, veering to the right off the road and on to the shoulder.  Phil looked up in time to see a semi truck in our lane, approaching fast.  At the last possible second, the truck jerked to the right and slid past us, coming within a few inches of crashing into our bus.

As he passed, I could see a semi tractor stalled in the other lane.  The semi truck driver apparently didn’t see the stalled truck in his lane until the last minute and came over into our lane to keep from hitting it.  If our bus driver hadn’t acted so quickly, it would have been a terrible collision.

Phil and I applauded the driver.  No one else did.  In fact, they all seemed rather calm, considering what had just happened.  We decided it may have been a fairly normal occurrence.

We found the boat in good condition.  There had been a couple of leaks that caused some dampness inside, but nothing that can’t be fixed.  We are slowly unpacking, trying to remember where things go and surprised by some of things we left on board last spring.

Of course, there are always things to be fixed.  The head is not working and Phil thinks it may need a new motor.  The dinghy engine worked at first, but when Phil took it for a trial run, the engine stopped and he was forced to suffer the embarrassment of being towed back to the boat.

Things are much the same at the marina, except for some changes in the non-human residents.  The two parakeets that lived here were frightened by a low-flying helicopter and fell into the water and drowned.  They have been replaced by a large parrot named Chomp and a small puppy named Tun-Ha.  Yesterday, there was much commotion when the parakeet (whose wings are clipped) jumped off his perch and landed on the floor with the puppy nearby. The puppy thought the parakeet was a toy and bounced after him.  The parakeet was scared, sqawking and trying to run away from the puppy.  We were able to corral the puppy just before he caught the parrot, which was close to the edge of the dock.


Tun-Ha had a conjoined twin.  You can see the scar on her side where the two were separated.  The other twin died.

The weather is beautiful, although everyone says it was rainy and cool for several days before we arrived.  The temperature climbs to the mid 80’s by noon, then the ever-present afternoon breeze comes along and keeps it comfortable.  We are comfortable sleeping, with fans on.  I’m guessing the nighttime temperature drops into the 60’s.

As soon as Phil fixes the dinghy engine, we’ll go into town and provision.  Until then, we are getting by on some staples from the small grocery at the marina next door. 

It will take us a few days to settle in, visit with friends and get used to the lovely slow pace of life down here.  If I can find the Christmas lights, we’ll decorate the boat.  Pictures to come!


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Rio Dulce to Cancun by Bus

Hello Friends and Family,

Here are the details of our bus trip from the Rio Dulce to Cancun.  Normally when we return to the US for the summer, we make the five-hour trek by bus from the Rio Dulce to Guatemala City, stay overnight and fly out the next day.

Discovering that the air fare from Cancun to Indianapolis was about half the price of Guatemala City to Indianapolis, we decided to fly out of Cancun.  Getting to Cancun would be an adventure taking us through inland Guatemala to Belize and up the Yucatan Coast to Mexico and Cancun.

The first leg of the trip was a three-hour trip from Fronteras to Flores.  We had our choice of three bus lines.  The Linea Dorada bus was supposed to be first class, with a bathroom and a stewardess, so we decided to go in style.

The bus was scheduled to leave Rio Dulce at 3:00 p.m. on Monday.  We actually left at 4:15.  The bus itself was OK, but not plush.  The bathroom was kind of nasty.  The stewardess was a guy who looked like he had slept in his clothes and he didn’t offer us any drinks or snacks.  Bah!  Humbug!

Going up the first hill after we left Fronteras, it was obvious there was something majorly wrong with the bus transmission.  The driver tried and tried and tried to slip it into whatever gear he was looking for, but there was only a loud grinding sound.  Finally, he got it into gear, but the grinding noise continued off and on for most of the trip, every time we went up or down a hill, which was most of the trip.

Even with the gear problems, I was comforted by the fact that the brakes seemed to work well.  However, about half way through the trip, the brakes developed a loud squeaking noise whenever he tried to slow down.  Probably from over-use because he couldn’t use the gears to slow down.  So much for a comfortable feeling.

The countryside didn’t vary much in Guatemala.  Lots of dirt poor homes near the highway with chickens, pigs and horses.  Every home had clean laundry drying on lines and fences.  No matter how poor they are, Guatemalans wear clean clothes.   There were scrub trees and small hills, with limestone  outcroppings in every direction.  Not much soil over the limestone means little agriculture.  The jungle has been cleared and herds of Brahman cattle are everywhere.

We arrived in Flores after dark and had no trouble finding a taxi who took us to the San Juan de Norte bus ticket office to reserve our place on the bus to Belize City in the morning, then to our hotel very close by.  The Mayaland Plaza Hotel was a very attractive place with a beautiful pool and hot tub in the central courtyard.  The room was clean and neat, but not fancy.  The only minuses were an ice cold shower that never warmed up and a loud, rattling air conditioner, mounted too high on the wall to be adjusted.  It was either on (room too cold) or off (room too hot).  But what can you expect for $40 a night.  We felt we got our money’s worth.  The dinner in the hotel restaurant was very tasty and the free “continental breakfast” the next morning was great…. scrambled eggs, toast and fresh fruit.

The bus to Belize was actually one of those tourist buses…smaller than a regular bus but larger and more comfortable than a van.  This was the most interesting leg of our trip…half in Guatemala and half in Belize.  The countryside was varied and we enjoyed the ride. Farm animals seemed to roam freely and the bus had to stop, sometimes very quickly, once for a cow, another time for a horse, a pig, and finally a duck.

The border crossing was much too complicated.     When we got a few miles from the border, our bus was boarded by staff from the San Juan del Norte Travel Agency, who offered to exchange our pesos for Belize dollars.  I didn’t check to see what their exchange rate was, but as eager as they were to exchange money for us, I’m guessing they were making a good profit.

We departed the bus with our luggage and went through the check-out from Guatemala (no charge).  Then we had to walk about a quarter mile across the border and check in to Belize (again, no charge).  The signs said that Belize officials would check our luggage, but they only asked if we were carrying any fresh fruit.  We could have been carrying drugs and guns.  I guess we looked innocent.  While we were checking out and checking in, the bus driver moved the bus to the Belize side and had some lunch.  All in all, it took about an hour to go through that whole process, including waiting for the bus driver to finish his lunch.  (In his defense, he was going to be driving another five hours to Chetamul.)

It turns out the San Juan de Norte bus company that provides the bus service from Flores to Belize City also provides water taxi service to Caye Caulker and San Pedro out of Belize City.  At the Belize check-in, we were approached by a young man who said he worked for the “other water taxi service” to San Pedro and Key Caulker.  There is lots of competition between the two water taxi companies. The young man was disappointed to learn that we were not interested in a water taxi once we got to Belize City, but he turned out to be full of good information, providing us with a map of Belize City, marking the location of the bus station on the map, and telling us that the bus station was several blocks away from where the bus would leave us and it was safer to take a taxi.  He even told us not to pay more than $7 Belize ($3.50 US) for the taxi.

We saw the first signs of agriculture when we crossed into Belize.  There were lots of cultivated fields growing an array of vegetables and also several orchards.  The fruit trees all looked the same but I never figured out what kind of trees they were.  The countryside changed from scrub vegetation in Guatemala to more trees, even forests along the roadside.

The small towns we passed in Belize appeared to be more prosperous than those of Guatemala and we began to see factories and lots of well cared for homes.

We arrived in Belize City around 1:00 p.m., with four hours to kill before we needed to be at the bus station to purchase our overnight passage to Cancun.  We found a bank machine and got some Belize dollars.  Then we had nice lunch at a Chinese restaurant near the waterfront, where we were able to leave our luggage while we explored the area around the waterfront.  We didn’t venture into downtown Belize City due to reports that it might not be the safest place for a couple of Gringos to wander around.

At 5:00 p.m., we took a taxi to the one and only bus station in Belize City and purchased our tickets for the 7:30 p.m. bus to Cancun.  Dinner consisted of some of the oatmeal, peanut butter and coconut cookies I had baked before we left Mango marina and some ice cream from the restaurant across the street from the bus station.   The bus station was an interesting place to watch people.  We were approached several times by both children and adults begging for money.  I did give money to a young man about twelve who had two younger brothers in tow.  He asked for a dollar to get a bus ticket and some food for his brothers.  Being a bleeding heart, I gave him the dollar and a little more.  Other than folks wanting money, the rest of the travelers were mostly families, local students and traveling backpackers.  The two hours went by quickly.

The ADO bus to Cancun was comfortable, on time, and only about half full.  No transmission problems and no squeaking brakes.  We arrived at the border with Mexico about 10:00 p.m.  We got off the bus to check out of Belize and pay our $30 ($15 US) per person exit fee.  Then we got back on the bus, crossed a river and got off the bus again to check in to Mexico.  This time we had to take our luggage with us to be inspected.  The check in process was quick, easy and free.  I expected to have to submit our luggage for inspection, but actually we only walked by a group of police and then got back on the bus.  Phil said later there was a drug dog next to one of the policemen, sniffing the bags as we walked by.

The remaining six hour trip to Cancun was uneventful, except that it was very cold on the bus.  The driver said the air conditioner could not be adjusted.  It was either on or off, and he left it on most of the trip.  There was lots of shivering on the bus.  The roads between Belize City and Cancun varied from narrow with bad pavement to wider with good pavement and finally, near the cutoff to Tulum, it became new four-lane divided highway the rest of the way to Cancun.  The first half of the trip it seemed like we went through dozens of small towns, each with numerous sets of tumulos (speed bumps).  The bus had to slow down for each one, which added lots of time to the trip.  The closer we got to Cancun, the better the road.

We arrived at the Cancun airport around 5:00 a.m. (local time, 4:00 a.m. Guatemala time).  It had been a long night and we didn’t sleep much.  We had breakfast at the airport and our hotel, the Comfort Inn Aeropuerto picked us up around 7:30.  They allowed us to check in right away and we spent the rest of the day napping, watching cable television and playing with our computers (in-room wi-fi).

The Comfort Inn was what the name says:  comfortable.  They offered a free breakfast, which scores many points for me in choosing hotels.   The only drawback was that we were not close to much else, except a Burger King about a block away.  Dinner in the hotel restaurant was nothing to write home about (although that’s what I’m doing right now), but it was not too bad.

We left for the Cancun airport at 1:30 for our 3:30 flight, first to Washington D.C. then to Indianapolis.  Planes were on time and United Airlines impressed me with their wide aisles, friendly stewardesses and most important, they gave you the whole can of soda rather than just a small glass!

We arrived home safe and sound around 11:30 p.m.

And that’s the story of our last trip of the winter 2012 season!  We’ll be back in Central America in the fall looking for new adventures.  Until next time…safe travels!

Phil and Margaret McGovern

s/v Sunshine

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Hello Family and Friends,

     This is a report on our recent journey on Sunshine, our 36-foot PDQ catamaran, from the Rio Dulce to the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras.  It’s not pretty, but I felt the need to describe what happened so I can eventually put it in some kind of perspective.

     We left Mango Marina on the Rio Dulce on Monday, February 27th, 2012, spent a couple of nights in a quiet cove called Texan Bay about ten miles down river from our starting point at Fronteras waiting for good weather.  Wednesday morning we cleared out of Guatemala at Livingston, where the Rio Dulce meets the Caribbean Sea, and set sail for the island of Utila, one of the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras about 100 miles away.

     As soon  as we entered the Gulf of Honduras we knew the weather forecast was not accurate.  Looking back, we should have turned around right then, but optimism prevailed and we thought the winds and waves would taper off.  They didn’t, in fact they increased as the afternoon wore on, causing a series of unfortunate events.

     Late in the afternoon, Phil noticed that he could not see the starboard anchor.  On further checking, we realized that the anchor had become dislodged, dropping into the ocean along with its 120 feet of chain.  We were soon anchored in 75 feet of water.  Six-foot waves made retrieval difficult, but the captain managed to reclaim the anchor and all the chain.  We breathed a sigh of relief and carried on.

     About ten p.m., with 25-30 knots of wind on our nose and 6-8 foot waves, the second unfortunate event unfolded.  In preparation for our trip, we had hoisted the dinghy up onto the foredeck and onto the trampoline, then secured it to the boat with several lines.  As I was glancing around the cockpit, I suddenly saw the dinghy emerge between the hulls at the back of the boat!  Phil rushed to grab it and was nearly pulled into the water as the waves tossed the boat and the dinghy up and down separately.  He finally managed to get the dinghy secured behind the boat with several more lines.  Just then, the single line, that had held the dinghy as it traveled back under the boat, wrapped itself around the starboard prop and the engine seized.
We would later realize that the massive force of the water contained in waves coming over the bow of the boat had destroyed the trampoline, allowing the dinghy to fall through.  We considered ourselves very fortunate that the dinghy was not lost.

     As the waves increased in size along with the wind and without the starboard engine, our forward progress decreased to less than two knots.  Dawn broke and we were still about 40 miles from Utila.  Since we were not far from the mainland of Honduras, we quickly decided to find a calm anchorage so we could regroup, make repairs and get some rest.  We had heard that there was some risk associated with anchoring on the mainland of Honduras, but it seemed less than the risk of continuing on. 

     We found a beautiful, quiet anchorage in a cove near Punta Sal, part of a national park.  It was a protected bay surrounded by palm trees and sandy beaches.  We could hear howler monkeys calling from the trees.  We pulled ourselves together, cleaned up the boat, and Phil dove several times trying to release the line that was gripping the prop.  He managed to cut away most of the line, but enough remained to keep the prop from moving freely.  We had a quiet dinner and slept well that night.

     We pulled the anchor and headed east south east to Utila around 7:00 a.m.  It was a 40-mile trip and we were averaging five knots, pulling the dinghy, a good speed for one engine.  The sea was fairly calm with large swells.  We would slow down to four knots as we climbed the swell, then speeded up to six knots as we skated down the other side.  The sun was shining and even though the wind was coming straight at us, the trip seemed do-able with an estimated time of arrival at 3:00 p.m.

     Of course, it didn’t last.  The wind began to pick up late in the morning.  The swells increased to breaking waves and our speed began to decline.  By early afternoon, we were crawling along at two to three knots.  Consequently, our arrival time in Utila began creeping later and later.  When the increasing wind and waves reduced our speed to less than two knots, the estimated arrival time became well after dark.

     We arrived at the west end of Utila about 8:30 p.m.  The clouds hid the moon and we were operating in total darkness, with only the chart plotter to show the way.  Trying to negotiate the high winds on the south side of the island all the way to the harbor, another five miles, seemed like a bad idea compared to finding a place to anchor on the western lee side of the island.  The chart plotter appeared to show a clear path through small islands and coral reefs, so we headed that direction.  As we got closer to the island, the winds didn’t abate as we had hoped and finding an anchorage in the dark in an unknown area full or coral heads seemed less and less wise. 

     Just as we were getting ready to backtrack and face several more hours trying to get to the harbor, we heard a friendly voice on the VHF.  Mark Zalenski, a cruiser we had traveled with off and on, asked if we needed help.  He knew from our SPOT message on Facebook that we were headed to Utila and somehow recognized our boat in the dark.  His large catamaran was anchored nearby in a fairly sheltered area.  He offered to come in his dinghy and lead us in to his anchorage.

     We followed him in and anchored near his boat, out of the wind and waves.  Mark’s act of kindness is typical of the way cruisers help each other in time of need.  We will be forever grateful to him.  We dropped into bed exhausted from another challenging day.

     By the next morning the winds had died down and we made the trip to the harbor in about an hour.  We anchored in an area with several other sailboats.

     Phil rowed us to shore in the dinghy.  We decided we didn’t need the outboard since it was only a short distance to the main dock.  The immigration office was closed for the weekend and we couldn’t clear in until Monday, so we took a walking tour around town.  We ran into Rob and Sue on Catalyst and had lunch with them, giving a full report of our crossing. 

     We hadn’t been able to contact them when we decided to anchor for the night on the mainland and they had been concerned when we didn’t show up in Utila the same day they did.   They had tuned into the Northwest Caribbean Cruisers Net on their single side band radio and asked if anyone had seen us.  It turns out some of our fellow cruisers had contacted the port captain at Puerto Cortez, one of the possible stopping places along the mainland.  It gave me a feeling of comfort to know that cruisers we didn’t even know had been on the lookout for us.

     You might think our adventure ended with safe anchorage at Utila Harbor.  But no, it continued.   After arriving on Sunday and enjoying a pleasant day in town, a great lunch and listening to the IU Hoosier basketball team roll over arch rival Purdue, we thought the drama was behind us. 

     Monday morning Phil rowed ashore. cleared us in with immigration and purchased a Honduran chip for our Tigo stick, giving us internet on the boat.  By the time he was ready to row back to the boat, the winds and waves had increased and it was all he could do to negotiate the few hundred yards back to the boat.

     As the afternoon wore on, the wind and waves increased.  Some of the other boats began to drag their anchors and we heard shouting as boats that were dragging toward shore tried desparately to keep from hitting the docks.  Phil put out a second anchor, hoping to keep us secured in our spot, but it was a futile effort.  We didn’t clock the winds, but I’m guessing they were at least 35-40 knots with gusts much higher.   About three o’clock, both anchors broke loose and we began moving toward the docks.  We started our one engine, moved back to our original spot and managed to secure at least one of the anchors.  That lasted about an hour and we began moving back toward the docks.  Again, we motored away slowly, but couldn’t make enough headway against the wind, dragging about 200 feet of chain, to get back in a good position away from shore.

     With great effort, Phil managed to retrieve both anchors, which allowed us to move at two to three knots and find a spot away from other boats and well away from shore.  The shaft of our favorite anchor had bent and was unusable, so Phil lowered the other anchor.  It was quickly set by the wind and took hold.  We set an anchor alarm along with a GPS setting that showed immediately if the boat was moving.

     The winds kept the boat rocking and rolling all night.  We checked the GPS setting often during the night and the boat hadn’t moved.  It’s now mid-morning and the winds are beginning to die down.  The weather forecast calls for overcast skies, but mild winds.  It can’t come soon enough for me.

     It will be a while before we can analyze how much of our “adventure” was bad luck and how much could have been prevented.  We’ll have to review everything that happened and decide what, if anything, we could have done to avoid some of the challenges we faced in the last few days.  I always told my kids that good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from poor judgment.  Perhaps this is all part of a very steep learning curve.  If so, I’m not enjoying the lessons.


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Making Tamales

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Our Week in Beautiful Antigua


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