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Perilous Passage Planning - Pirate Infestation & Nemesis Winds

Roatan to Guanaja Passage

Route from French Harbour to our Guanaja anchorage. (above)

Now that we're all provisioned with fuel and food and have friends and new crew members Paul and Linda on board, we set off on a 6.5 hour passage from French Harbour, Roatan to Guanaja which is the furthest East Bay Island and our jumping off point for our Panamanian passage. Wind was forecasted to be light; however, in reality, the sea state was rough with higher winds and waves than expected and we had to motor easterly most of the way, beating into the waves. It was unpleasant, but essential to get to our passage departure location so we didn't miss out on a potential ideal weather window to Panama.

Fixing our furler (left). Extensive pristine reef (center). Bonacca Town public dock (right)

On the way, Paul and Eileen fixed our head sail furler because the line on the furling drum had gotten tangled preventing us from furling the sail. Because of it's remote location, Guanaja is still relatively unspoiled. It's primary sources of income comes from fishing, shrimping, as well as from a fledgling adventure and scuba diving travel industry. The main island is sparsely populated and spacious while oddly enough the small neighboring island of Bonacca Town or Low Cay contains most of the approximately 5,538 people who live in Guanaja. The densely populated cay has been described as the Venice of Honduras because of the waterways that run through it.

The Great Guanaja 2021 Fire & Rebuild

Bonacco Town (left). 2021 fire (center). Current rebuild (right).

Tragically on October 2, 2021 a dawn fire grew out of control and swept through the island, engulfing some 200 structures. The Honduran military was called to help with the rescue, dropping seawater from helicopters to extinguish the flames. Thankfully, there were no casualties, but due to lack of government support, rebuilding was still in its early stages during our visit more than two years later.

Intense Passage Planning to Providencia, Colombia

Shorter, more dangerous path (left). Longer ideal path (right). Scaredy-cat-cat (right)

For multiple reasons, the passage from Guanaja to Panama is one of the toughest and most challenging a cruiser will face. First, strong and consistent east to west trade winds require one to carefully time a 48+ hour weather window, preferably motor sailing east in lower winds and making the turn south before they pick up speed. Some have been known to wait for months during peak trade wind season or to start sailing towards the Cayman Islands until far enough along to veer south and start sailing, making the passage MUCH longer and more unpredictable.

Another option is to depart using northerly storm winds for sailing at a beam reach (winds coming perpendicular from the port side); however, this tempestuous sporty sail option comes with the added risk of rough riding higher seas and winds with the possibility that storm weather conditions could careen out of control.

Compounding risk and uncertainty, are the notoriously opportunistic and desperately poor Nicaraguan fishermen, fishing off the sizable productive shelf rounding the corner of Honduras All you need to do is read about the many documented pirate attacks and stories from cruisers to know that this is no joke. Fishermen in small boats called pangas stay offshore for long periods of time fishing, supported by larger fishing and processing boats, and its these pangas that await an oblivious or compromised cruiser with engine, sail or weather issues that require them to divert to the shorter, closer to shore route. Several pangas may coordinate to pursue a vessel, board and strip it of anything of worth. After hearing enough of those stories, we chose a much wider path 150 miles offshore where pirate activity is nonexistent, regardless of additional Easting time. Even this far out, we managed to get caught on two offshore nets. More on that in next week's blog.

Passage Preparation & Precautions

Cleaning dirty hull (left), Easting winds (center), Weapons (right)

Paul above helping me clean our hull for optimal speed (left). PredictWind showing easting winds for us to overcome (center). Weapons for evading pirates (right).

Weapons List

  • high powered laser with blinding light

  • grizzly bear pepper spray

  • high powered slingshot with steel ball bearing ammo

  • Machete

  • Spear gun (not shown)

Here's our strategy. First, we do all that we can to prevent a boarding. We plan to blind assailants with the laser while pelting them with high speed ball bearings while approaching our boat and if they continue pursuit of our craft and attempt to board, spray them with pepper spray and cut them with the machete. If they keep coming, we continue to steer the boat so they can't board. If we see a gun or hear gunshots, we give up and let them take everything.

Back to our weather window. Surprisingly enough, after dropping anchor, both PredictWind and our expert weather advisor Chris Parker, indicated a rare weather window, starting the next day, that hasn't been seen in five years. Talk about getting lucky and good thing we were there to take advantage of it! As the saying goes, "You make your own luck"! All that was left to do now was visit immigration to clear out of Honduras so we were free to depart first thing in the morning.

Join us next week, where we depart Honduras and head for Panama on our most difficult passage ever!

May your adventures abound!

Eileen and Brown

s/v Sailing Blown Away

"Proceed as if success is inevitable."

+1.347.461.1204 - US mobile/Whatsapp

Twitter - @svblownaway

Instagram - @sailingblownaway

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