Travel, Cruising, Crashes and Cats

Hacienda Tijax
Fronteras, Guatemala

The work on the Norway property continued at full steam during the first week of August.  Ole needed to get back to the Sovereign to take a break from his working vacation!

After a very long trip home from Norway (Gjaeroy to Bodo; overnight Bodo; Bodo to Oslo to Newark to Houston to Guatemala City; overnight; bus to Fronteras — total time 3 days), we arrived back at Emma Jo to find her in good shape, and the cats excited to have us home.  The only fatality was what our boat sitter Lucy referred to as a “broken water thingy” — turned out to be the main water pump.  Fortunately we had a new one onboard, which was lovingly installed by our neighbor Sim, on the s/v Alianna.  He’s a great guy and fellow chief engineer — he works as chief on a British tall ship used to train sailors and rehabilitate youth at risk.  Cool project.

Oscar, our varnish guy, had nearly finished some very good work on the teak — varnishing the cap rails and rub rail to a faretheewell.  We were so proud, and eager to remember boating, that we decided to take the last weekend before Ole’s return to the Sovereign and travel with Spiff aboard Ruthy L, a 46-foot Fisher motor sailor,  for a short trip on Lake Izabal.

Rafted Up with Ruthy L

We visited Denny’s Beach, a small but beautiful Canadian-owned resort, rafting up on our anchor in flat-calm water and dinghying ashore for lunch.  What a lovely spot — with a white sand beach, walking trails through the jungle, and deluxe accomodations for the rich Salvadorans and Guatemalans who come down for vacation.  After lunch was the obligatory nap, then a weighing of anchor for a trip further west along the north shore of the lake.  We dropped anchor, rafted up again (on our anchor), and prepared for the sundown ritual of cocktails on the “back porch.”  We had just settled in, admiring the squall line approaching on the mirror-flat water, when it all went horribly wrong.

The wind went from zero to 25 knots in a heartbeat — then the chop followed, causing Emma Jo and Ruthy L to buck the chop in tandem.  The bucking lasted about 10 minutes, and then the wind stopped — unfortunately the chop increased — then turned to hit us directly on the side.  The tandem bucking turned in to side to side bashing, bending the horns of our through-hull bow cleats, snapping Spiff’s bow line, and aiming the pointy end of his sailboat right at our bridge.  It took about 5 minutes to cut each other loose, and for Spiff to circle around and drop his own anchor.

A morning assessment showed that all of Oscar’s good work was in vain — we had six feet of chewed up rubrail, a huge gouge in the bow caprail, and a 2-foot tear in the fiberglass of the Portuguese bridge.  Spiff, though 10 tons heavier, fared a bit worse, having the caprail split and lifted clean off the starboard bow of his boat, and the turnbuckles holding up his main shroud bent beyond recognition.

We are still speaking to each other.

Maggie (the fat orange cat) had lost some weight, and was beginning to look really bothered by the heat, panting heavily and acting lethargic.  There’s a veterinarian who comes downriver once a month for shots and health papers, who was kind enough to stop by the boat for a look at her — and he seemed to think there was something dreadfully wrong, probably thoracic.  Unfortunately, there is no veterinary clinic or laboratory on the river — the nearest full service clinic is in Guatemala City.  There began the grief.  If the cat is ill, then putting her in the carrier in the heat, going by boat to the bus stop, waiting for a 6 hour bus that may or may not have air conditioning, getting in a taxi, finding the clinic, then overnighting in a hotel only to return the same way would only add to her stress.

Eugene (the owner of Tijax) offered to take me to his vet in Puerto Barrios, about an hour away, as he and his wife and child needed to do some shopping there.  So I drugged the cat, put ice in baggies in her carrier, and trudged her over the Tarzan bridges to the parking lot.Maggie started panting in the parking lot, and by the time we were halfway to Morales, the poor cat was panting so hard I thought she was going to have heart failure right there on the spot.  But with the AC going full blast, after about 20 minutes on the road she calmed down.  About 5 miles outside Puerto Barrios, traffic came to a screeching halt for over an hour – there had been an accident that was in the process of being cleared.  The backup went all the way into town – so the one hour trip lended up to be a 3 hour trip by the time we got in to see the “vet”.  Although he used to run a zoo, the vet now owns a pet store.  No clinic, no lab, no x-rays.  Just haul the cat out of the carrier onto his sales counter for a perfunctory exam.  No temperature; no fluid in the lungs; tachycardia (irregular heartbeat).  He asked me how old she was, I said “13” and he said “she’s getting old.  Give her some vitamins.”  Period.  Nice man, but clearly not curious about what was causing the irregular heartbeat, and no press to offer more help other than to give her vitamins and keep her from losing weight by making sure she has enough to eat (!)  Total time:  10 minutes.  There were customers in the shop.  So veterinary care here is a reflection of the culture, and cats are pretty low on the food chain.

By the time the shopping was finished, the 3 hour trip had taken about 8 and a half hours, and I know no more than when I left.  After this experience, I’m really not willing to subject her to any more travel stress, and will have to figure out how to keep her comfortable and happy until the end.  It makes me sad that I can’t do more for her.

Along with the cat drama came word of Hurricane Dean, which looked like it was going to make a direct hit on us.  There was some minor scurrying around the marina to remove canvas and secure lines, but the Rio Dulce’s reputation as a hurricane hole stood.  We got winds of about 5 knots, and 12 hours of rain — making the river rise about a foot here.  They don’t call it a hurricane hole for nothing!

And thank goodness for good neighbors.  Shortly after Ole left for Sovereign, I noticed alarm lights on the forward bilge pump and shower pump, and investigation found that both had burned themselves out.  Our neighbor Ken on s/v Novena, helped me find a replacement shower pump, and our long lost friend Spiff installed it for me.  Although it’s supposed to be automatic, it’s not quite perfect — requiring running upstairs naked to turn it on (I forget to turn it on as I’m stepping into the shower), then rushing back upstairs to shut it off.

Without Ole here, Sim and Rosie, and Ken and Patty, English sailors moored near us, have adopted me and take me everywhere — most often to the Sundog Cafe for happy hour a couple of times a week.  Some days we visit the “Ropa Americana” vendors who take pallets of Goodwill clothing and overstocks sent down from the states and offer clothing for sale cheap.  My most recent finds are a denim sundress (Bobbie Brooks) for $3, and a tennis skort (Jones New York) for $2.  I’m beginning to forget how to even spell “Nordstrom.”

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