April 27, 2012

Somewhere Between Utila & Guanaja

I bought one very cool T-shirt during our last stay in Roatan which read, “Where the Hell is Roatan” with a large question mark stamped next to it; on the back it gave the most fitting response, it read “Between Utila and Guanaja!” It’s pretty funny considering many folks haven’t even heard of any of these island names until their first visit. I also found it very appropriate as a title for this entry given that it accurately described the next amazing activity we would be embarking on. According to some tourist magazines, island hopping by catamaran or yacht is always included in those Top 5 Things to Do lists when you are in the Bay Islands. It is quite common between Utila and Roatan because it’s a short distance, approximately 25 Miles / 40 Km. and depending on wind and sea conditions, it can be done in around 4 hours. Of course the length of the trip may vary and so does the price. Depending on the amount of people going on the trip get ready to spend between 30 to 60 USD per person.

chillin in theTRAMPOLINE

You definitely want to take your time, have some drinks, enjoy the sun and create your own party boat atmosphere; perhaps dropping anchor to take a dip in the warm sea or even more exciting, go sightseeing for whale sharks or dolphins. I know of one person who offers this out of the ordinary recreational activity and he goes by the name of Captain Vern Fine. He offers this ferry service between Roatan and Utila; I even got his phone numbers 3346-2600 and 9910-8040 in case you ever want to contact him. If you don’t have a phone with you, you can probably ask around for him in any of the most frequented hangouts in either downtown Utila or in West End, Roatan, apparently he is quite famous amongst the usual barflies or they may just point to one of his own flyers posted strategically on the wall for some general information. Another option is to be on the lookout for his catamaran, the Nina Elisabeth II, docked somewhere in plain view. Nevertheless, we did not do any of the above! Instead, our group (still 15 of us), decided to go an alternate route; we took advantage of a little know connection I had made a year earlier while working for Sunwing Vacations, in Roatan. Back then as the administrator for this tour operator I had the opportunity to sell some airplane tickets to a yacht owner from Quebec named Pierre Ricard. His quote after I hooked him up with a return flight to Canada was, and I remember clearly, “if you are ever in Utila and want to take a ride in my yacht, give me a call”, and he gave me his phone number. It never crossed my mind at the time, I would be taking up his offer a year later to arrange a fantastic sea voyage for our little group of honeymooners.
capt. Ricard'sVESSELin the middle of a roll
about to set sail in capt. Michele'sCATAMARAN
Mr. Ricard’s vessel, a yacht which probably measured around 35 feet, could fit six passengers comfortably with luggage and all. However we needed room for nine more people, remember we were a total of 15 passengers, so Mr. Ricard, Cpt. Ricard from now on, had to think fast to accommodate all of us would be sailors on this trip. I am not quite sure how he did it, but apparently overnight, he teamed up with Michele, a French captain of a much larger and I must say, very sleek catamaran which could fit the rest and then some. As a result, in less than 24 hours, we now had two French speaking “capitaines” and their two magnificent “boats” waiting for us dockside, and we were set for an early morning sail trip from Utila heading north east to beautiful Roatan.

After receiving instructions to gather food provisions for our trip, we all did some shopping the previous evening preparing for an all out smorgasbord on what we thought would be a very glamorous boat ride. This included crackers, cheese, wine, beer, and even clams. It is clear to say we all imagined this would be the highlight of our trip; thoughts of us basking in the sun, munching on our posh “hors d'oeuvres”, together with some casual dancing and drinking on the high seas were all in our heads. I totally saw myself spreading flat on the trampoline, and posing for a large number of photographs to boast about our sailing adventure later on. We were really excited; it was going to be the trip of a lifetime!

In the end, sailing in the Caribbean did not turn out as expected. It so happened that almost half of the crew on each boat had a miserable time for almost the entire duration of the trip. Only a few of us touched the food, most of us only took pictures at the beginning and then upon arrival to Roatan, and I can remember only one person drinking booze at all. In fact if anyone was going to be boasting about anything it was going to be about how much they threw up! Yes indeed, for some odd reason no one even thought about the possibility of getting seasick! I guess the whole idea was too good to be true. 

It took maybe 30 minutes after leaving the Utila docks on Capt. Michele’s catamaran that we entered the open sea and that’s when the boat really started rocking. Even though it looked like a perfect day to go sailing as there were clear blue skies all around, there was plenty of wind which roughed up the sea creating large waves and as a result a constant but pronounced swaying up and down. Capt. Ricard’s yacht sailed close to us, and we could see it was extremely tilted to one side, yet it appeared not to bounce as much as it slowly cut through the crest of each wave. However, their accounts of their voyage were not much different than ours. Soon enough, the trip got sour for most of us. Even I got a little ill, and I have spent a good deal of time on all type of boats when diving. A good tip if this happens to you is to focus on a steady point, for example, the horizon or dry land. Eating a few crackers tends to settle the stomach as well, but the best solution would have been to have taken a Dramamine pill for motion sickness half an hour earlier. It would have saved us a lot of trouble.  

15DAUPHINSgreeted us as we arrived inROATAN
Prior to our pleasant feelings of wanting to throw up, I remember Capt. Ricard had continuously expressed his enthusiasm that we would soon be obtaining our sea legs. I believe we failed that feat miserably, but after our four hour trip was prolonged to a grueling seven hour ordeal, who could blame us. It was way too much action for our unaccustomed bodies to take, yet a final event literally came out of the blue and happily saved the entire story. Just when things could not get any bleaker it happened as we got closer to West End, Roatan, and it made everyone’s pain and suffering immediately disappear. Capt. Michele cried out, “dauphin, dauphin”, and a large school of spotted dolphins, maybe 15 of them appeared from nowhere rushing from side to side of the catamaran, jumping high in the air as if to show off their fins waving hello. For that short moment everyone smiled and put aside their nausea and dizziness as we witnessed this wonderful spectacle of nature somewhere between Utila and Roatan. Upon mooring we did what we wanted to do all along; we celebrated in style, with all of our untouched food and booze, together in a catamaran, on an island in the Caribbean with a beautiful sunset right before our eyes!
a beautifulSUNSETto end a beautiful day