Boy, do we ever like to shake things up. We went from a monohull to a catamaran, from steel to fiberglass, from the South Pacific to the Caribbean, from full-time cruising to “commuter cruising”, and from having our son with us 24/7, to being empty nesters. What remains the same, though, is that we are still fixing a boat in exotic places.
So let’s back up and recap the last few years. From 2007 to 2011, we cruised 20,000 nm from BC to Thailand in our 50′ Waterline, Tin Soldier. Due in no small part to pirate activity in the Arabian Sea, we sold her in Malaysia and decided to put future cruising plans on hold until our 16 year old son, Jaryd, had graduated. Well, that sounded good in theory, but emotions drive behaviour, not logic, (right?) so before long, we were seriously thinking about a new boat and exotic cruising grounds. Impressed by the sea kindliness, livability and speed of the cats we had cruised with, Marilyn lobbied hard for a catamaran. At first, Glen balked at the idea (too expensive, they look weird) but to pacify the “admiral”, we began researching cats.
Spending time aboard fellow BCA member, Laurent and Valerie Devin’s bright, comfortable and roomy 38′ Lagoon catamaran Letitgo, just before they set off for the South Pacific, cemented the idea. We decided a slightly larger Lagoon 41 would fit both our budget and needs. The search for a three cabin owner’s version, that had never been in charter and situated somewhere along the west coast of NA, began in earnest. Well, long story short, after a challenging private sale purchase, we were thrilled to be the new owners of Avanga, a considerably larger Lagoon 420, which at the time of purchase, was under charter contract (so much for buying a non-chartered boat) in Belize (West Caribbean, not exactly the west coast).
Over the next year and a half during school holidays, we “booked” our boat with family and friends a number of times. We explored the many islands, called cayes, located inside the protective MesoAmerican reef, the second largest reef system in the world, which stretches from Honduras up to the northern tip of the Yucatan in Mexico. The calm waters and protective Belizean anchorages provided a good training ground, and soon we were confident enough to venture beyond the not-so- exciting, small mangrove-covered cayes to the more exotic, white sandy beach, palm-covered cayes that dot the reef, and then further afield to several of the nearby offshore atolls.
With Jaryd finally graduated and gearing up for university, we were at last at a stage where we could take Avanga out of charter, run her down the coast to Rio Dulce, Guatemala, where modifications to convert her into a cruising boat compared to a charter boat, could begin. This meant she was now finally ours and ours alone. This had advantages, and disadvantages. No longer would strangers be stomping around our boat, and we could actually start putting things aboard and leaving them there. On the down side, the end of the surprisingly lucrative charter income flow (US dollars even!) meant we were now maintaining and paying out of pocket for things ourselves – ugh.
Glen flew down in September ’15 to San Pedro, Belize, where Avanga was based. He was happy to find her shipshape, with all systems working. TMM, the charter company, deserves full marks for handing the boat to us in great shape. After loading her down with the 14 bags of stuff, which we had accumulated and left in storage, he then single-handed her south down the Belizean Coast to Rio Dulce.
Rio Dulce is the La Paz of the western Caribbean. Touted as being the best hurricane hole in the Caribbean, hundreds of cruising boats can be found in the numerous fresh water marinas,16 miles up the river. In addition to a very active social scene, there is lots of local and gringo talent available to assist with boat maintenance and upgrades.
Following some interesting inland adventures, work began in earnest on a number of upgrades designed to convert Avanga from a charter boat into something more closely resembling a cruising boat. Electrical upgrades topped our “to do” list, helped along in no small part by Glen’s brother, Don, an electrician – good skill sets to have aboard!
Rio Dulce, which has been well covered and talked about by other BCA members in previous Currents, is a good enough place to hang out and have work done, but after three months, we found the oppressive heat and humidity made it an even better place to set sail from.
After a quick trip home for Christmas, we were ready to set off in January on our first overnight, offshore passage. With a crew consisting of Glen’s brother and Jaryd (who took a so-called gap year to work and travel), we set sail for the Bay Islands, 30 miles off Honduras.
Passages take on a whole new meaning in the Caribbean. Instead of multi-day distances covering hundreds if not thousands of miles, typically new landfalls are only several hundred miles from one another.
So how is it different to be sailing on a plastic cat, versus a steel monohull? For one thing, it’s noisier. Creaks and groans that we seldom heard on our Waterline are much more prevalent. Pounding to weather in 30 knots is no bueno. But, no heeling! That part Marilyn loves. The down side of this is that you have to be more aware of when you are becoming overpowered by the wind, as there is no heeling to alert you to it. The motion is less rolling, more jerky, and our cat, at least, tends to hobby horse – takes some getting used to.
Equipped with 4 power winches, furling headsail and code zero, Avanga is easy and fun to sail. Thanks to the two engines, she turns on a dime. The other big plus is the comfort and livability of a 24ft wide cat. While at anchor, we are in a bright and spacious floating condo, and while at sea, we still feel that we can do things in a degree of comfort and ease, versus on a monohull. Having separate cabins with their own heads, we have hosted two other couples and Jaryd, offering everyone privacy and space.
So, are we happy we switched? Well, Marilyn certainly is, and Glen seems to sing its virtues more than was expected, so I guess that’s a “yes” (he still thinks most cats look weird, though).
We are currently anchored off Roatan, one of the Honduran Bay Islands. The pristine, crystal clear water is renowned for its snorkeling and diving and has not disappointed. Plus the camaraderie with fellow cruisers from all over the world is reminiscent of our travels in the South Pacific. More of that in a subsequent article.