Another Bl...dy awful night before clearing into Guatamala

Phil & Nikki Hoskins
Sat 18 Jun 2011 21:28
There are good anchorages and bad anchorages but sometimes it's hard to differentiate between them. On the chart they can look pretty similar - offering a good lee from the prevailing wind but it's the surrounding landscape that makes the difference. We were in a very large ocean 'dead end' or corner close to the borders of Honduras, Guatemala & Belize. We had anchored off Cabo Tres Puntas, a peninsular jutting out into the sea some 10 miles long, the beach was lined with simple huts with straw roofs and smoke from cooking pots wafting into the air. Quite an attractive location really.
At 0200, pretty much on the dot, we awoke to heavy rainfall which is quite usual in the tropics. We hastily ran round the boat shutting hatches. Just a minutes worth of tropical rainfall through an open hatch will have you paddling around in puddles below. Then the wind arrived - lots of wind in fact - 30 knots of wind. It was a relief that we'd paid out 40 metres of anchor chain given the squally weather conditions. We quickly realised that the waves we were starting to endure surely couldn't have built up in the short distance between the beach and us. It was on with the instruments and into the cockpit where the torrential rain was cascading off the bimini and pouring down the decks. Outside we could see absolutely nothing of the shoreline just the lights of the yacht we anchored next to and the light of another new arrival. The bad news now was that those anchor lights were on our starboard side - not the port side which was the case when we went to bed. We now had close to gale force winds trying to push us back onto the beach. Such was the sea state we actually took a solid wave over the bow which unfortunately found its way below via the two forward deck hatches that neither of us had realised were on vent.
We started the engines as a precautionary measure and kept them ticking over in case we had to move in a hurry. Usually these squalls last a few minutes at most and life then returns to normal, but not this one! Then the lightening started followed by claps of thunder in the surrounding bay. The cloud to cloud lightening was intense and the rain fell out of the sky at an alarming rate. An hour later and things were slowly changing. The wind had settled down to 18-25 knots but veered into the northwest so blowing along the beach. The waves, however, were still from the same direction meaning they were on our port beam throwing us all over the place. There was little reason to move.  The anchor was holding fine and the visibility was still so bad we would be in more potential trouble messing around with anchors than if we stayed put. The storm cell was still occupying a lot of radar space on the scanner and seemed to reform whenever it looked as if it was breaking up. Finally things started to settle down as the lightening moved into the distance and the rain eased down to a steady rather than torrential stream.
A couple of hours later as dawn broke we were on our way to Livingston to check in with the Immigration and Customs authorities so that we could proceed up the Rio Dulce to Monkey Bay Marina where we now plan to spend much of the summer hurricane season.
As a footnote to this awful night we subsequently met the owners of the boat that was with us in the anchorage who said - "if you think that was bad you should have been there the previous night!" and one of the boats we now share the marina with, a tiny 28 footer was actually hit by lightening the night previous to that!! So if that place gets hit nightly then we'll give it a miss in future!
A look at the surrounding area gives us an relatively simple explanation to this phenomena - the storms roll down from Belize or along the coast from Honduras and end up in this large bay from where there is little escape due to the surrounding hills and mountains, so the storms just go round and around and around with this seemingly lovely anchorage slap bang in the middle.
                    Just after dawn after that storm                                                                                                   and our approach to Livingston