Thurs 31 Mar – Saturday 2 Apr, Honduras days 30-32, Utila: Move from Roatan to Utila, and prepare to head northwards.
Thursday we depart the West End of Roatan late morning and sail over to Utila, the western most of the Bay Islands, a passage of just 22 miles.
When we entered the West End reef passage, we have seen minimum depth of 2.6m so we were quite confident that we could get out by simply following our previous track, but what I had not taken into account was tides ☹. In this part of the world tidal ranges are so small (~30cm or 1ft) that we tend to forget about them. This time to our detriment. Going out the reef passage we scraped the bottom not once but twice! The unusual thing was that on the depth-sounder, we never saw anything shallower than 3.5m as we went through, so how we managed to touch I really don’t know. Maybe we were hitting rock fish?? 😊
Once passed the reef we are quickly sailing gently downwind towards Utila, wing-on-wing with the genoa poled out to port. Also out is the fishing line. Today we are determined to catch something! Halfway across, the line suddenly went bzzzzzz and we rapidly go to action stations. But our excitement was short lived. After just a few seconds the line went slack again and when I pulled it in, the complete setup, hook, lure, leader line and swivel were all gone. When that happens, not only are we annoyed we lost the fish, but we also feel more than slightly guilty that the fish will probably die anyway with all that hanging out of its mouth. Let’s just hope it managed to free itself from the hook.
After just 4 hours of sailing, we furl the sails and round up into the only anchorage on Utila: a bay on the southeastern corner, right next to the town, which is easy to enter with plenty of water depth. Then it’s the usual snorkel-check the anchor, get the dinghy in the water and outboard secured back on readying for an exploration trip ashore. And while doing this we get our first taste of what this island is all about with regards to tourism. It’s late afternoon and dive boats are pouring back into the bay one after the other, all full of young people. Indeed, this island is known to be both great diving and also a party-town for young back packer types. Once off the boats after their afternoon dive, they are soon gathering on the terraces of their shoreline accommodation, drinking beers and jumping in the water, and acting like who they are: young people! Looks like Utila is a far cry from the rather sedate and more elderly tourists that are commonplace on Roatan.
Now it has to be said our first visual impressions of this little town were not great. That first evening we walked the narrow main street (the only street, frankly) and found it rather dark and dingy. The young ones may have been having fun in their basic dive-center accommodation, but on the street the few very basic eateries either had no one in them, or just a few locals. Looks like to party in this town, you need to be part of a party in the first place. But the next day (Friday) in daylight, it all looked more appealing. The street was buzzing with scooters, tuk-tuks and pedestrians and the intense sunlight revealed colourful buildings and friendly people.
Our first stop was to the port office to report in, and to discuss the check-out process. We have decided it’s time to start heading back north and there is a weather window for a passage up to Cuba, leaving here on Sunday. If we miss that opportunity, we are here for at least another 10 days.
All reports from the cruising community say that of all the Bay Islands, Utila is the best place to check-out from, with a very simple process and friendly staff. Unfortunately, that was not our experience. The port officer was very friendly and straight forward, but the lady immigration officer was at the opposite end of the courteously-spectrum. She rather rudely informed us that for a Sunday departure we must complete the immigration checkout today and told us to come back at 1pm with all our passports and paperwork. But arriving back to her office at 12:45 she got very agitated saying it was now her lunch break and that she had specifically told us 2pm, not 1pm, hence we were very rudely sent packing. 15 minutes later I returned to see the port officer for directions to pay our anchoring fee and observed the immigration officer idly still sitting at her desk, just chatting to a friend!
We returned, as ordered, at 2pm and she finally let us in at 2:20pm and immediately went on the offensive, demanding that we need Covid PCR tests to leave Honduras, a requirement that no-one before has had needed, to our knowledge. There was a lot of words spoken, mainly Spanish between her and Oana, and she finally relented only when we said “OK, then we will just leave Honduras anyway, without your check-out procedure”. And 1 hour later we were finally out of her office after she delayed us as long as possible asking for photos, fingerprints, vaccination certificates and anything else that she could think of – none of which you normally need to do for a check-out. Such a pity that encounters like this, by just one official, can leave a bad taste with regards to the country you are leaving. Because prior to this lady, all other Hondurans we met or had to deal with could not have been more pleasant.
During the next day(s) I went for a twin-tank scuba dive on the NW coast drop-off while Oana did laundry and prepared food for our passage up to Havana, which would be 3 full days (560 nautical miles). We also found some nice-ish venues in town and although warming to the place our minds were now firmly in the departure-groove. Once we are in that state-of-mind, nothing else really gets attention.
So tomorrow we depart, it will be an early one: 3am alarm for 4am departure. And the first 12 hours won’t be pleasant. But that is the price we must pay to catch this narrow weather window which should get us all the way to Havana without too much duress. But more on that in the next blog.