The Rio Dulce

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Livingston Rio Dulce Fronteras Honduras (San Pedro Sula) Ready to leave Rio Dulce
  Livingston, Guatemala

14 October 2008

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Anchored outside Livingston waiting for Customs and Immigration


Note the yellow "Q" flag. Always flown in national waters before you and boat are cleared in.




Arrived in the Rio Dulce on 14th October, having finally broken the last ties to the Moorings in Placencia.

First leg, 23NM Placencia to Newhaven, was our maiden voyage onboard Dreaming On. With a very light following wind, we tried the main sail and the genoa. Both are easier to handle than on Dream On, despite the main being much larger. 

Newhaven is a mangrove lined lagoon still in Belize close to the southern town of Punta Gorda.,-88.5913&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

Caught a cero mackerel on the way so fantastic fresh dinner on arrival.

Overnight  stop in Newhaven, then an early start for 30NM leg across the Gulf of Honduras to Livingston, entry point for Guatemala.

Seas 1’ to 4’ but still nothing was put away as we had to do on Dream On every time we sailed. Nothing fell over. Coffee out of china mugs all the way! Still enough motion to enjoy, but a head wind all the way so motored this leg. 

The Rio Dulce has a 5’ sand bar across the entrance at Livingston. Dreaming On draws only 4’ 4”, (compared with Dream On at 5’ 8”). Boats with draft deeper than 5' have to be heeled by hauling their mast over to another boat to get across at high tide.

Pre-arranged clearance at Livingston with Raul, the local customs agent who arrived onboard with an entourage of customs, port authority, health and immigration within 10 minutes of anchoring. All very cordial and efficient, then we returned to shore with them, (we don’t have a dinghy yet) to walk around town, collected our passports and entry papers 45 minutes later and took a water taxi back to the boat..

Arrived in Livingston just before 12 noon and by 1pm were on our way up the river.


Livingston from the sea



Livingston lively main street



Heading away from Livingston towards the Rio Dulce gorge.


      Rio Dulce    

15 October 2008

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  WOW! Entered the Rio Dulce river gorge as soon as we left Livingston. 300’ high cliffs, with dense jungle on each side and occasional glimpses of 300 feet of bare rock faces. The river meanders through the gorge for around 8NM. The occasional small thatched fishing camp, then a few tasteful private residences. There are no roads here so all transport is by boat, so a busy thoroughfare.  

On entry into the first lake, El Golfete, the ground drops and the river widens. We passed large areas of water lilies at this point. El Golfete is around 15 miles long before it narrows at the town of Fronteras and the only road bridge which spans the river 90 feet high.

We expected to collect our borrowed dinghy from friend Curtis’ house half way up El Golfete, but we thought that he had returned to US for a few days, so went on to Fronteras.

In Fronteras, we found all the marinas, bars, restaurants and most important of all our old friends from our first Bahamas trip in 2005, Art & Joan Schuck on their new boat, OK Fine. They called on the radio to check our progress just as we arrived outside the marina they now call home. They were soon out to greet us in their dinghy and guide us into their marina.

Our marina, La Joya del Rio is just through the bridge but before the river widens into Lago Izabal, a 30 NM long lake, the largest in Guatemala.

This was our first attempt at docking the catamaran, as the Moorings' staff always moor all boats on the Moorings' dock in Placencia. However, with 2 engines 24' apart Dreaming On can be maneuvered very easily, so it went very smoothly.

The catch, as with most marinas and restaurants here is there is no road link. The only way to leave the marina for shopping etc., is by dinghy and we don't have one! Art & Joan have offered their services as both taxi and guides for a few days until we collect our borrowed dinghy..

We also caught up with Nick and Eli, who skipper for Moorings a new crewed Leopard 46. Their haul-out complete, they were making their way back to Placencia.

It rains here!!! A very large low pressure system stalled over Honduras, Guatemala and Belize. We arrived just in time on the day it started raining. Took a week to begin to clear with very heavy tropical rain every day. Our photos of the trip through the gorge were not as bright as we had hoped due to the cloud build up.

The level of the river and lakes also rose considerably, bringing with the flood a great deal of silt of the mountains, so we had brown water for a few days. The current in the river outside our sheltered lagoon is very strong.

As this is written, our dock is only 1 inch above water level. Dreaming On will soon be above the dock!

Rio Dulce impressions: Friendly people - Scenery - River activity - Nesting egrets at dusk - Islands of water hyacinth and water lilies floating down river - any boats in marinas and at anchor.





Into El Golfete, looking back towards gorge.

El Golfete and clouds gathering


16 October 2008

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The Fronteras bridge


The water level is rising over the dock


Everyone is waiting for the rain to stop


A wet egret


There are many marinas on both the sides of the lake around Fronteras, some small, some larger more established marinas. This is the peak season, during the hurricane months when people leave their boats secure and fly back home, or use the time to get jobs done onboard. Few marinas have available space, so we will have to look around and book ourselves a slip for next August.

We have a great choice of restaurants, mostly in marinas all looking out over the water. Prices and food are generally good and there is a very active social scene.

The Rio Dulce radio net on is hosted by a rota of cruisers at 07.30 every morning on VHF channel 69. First call is for any emergency traffic. Next call is for any newcomers to the river and anyone leaving. Next is restaurant highlights and specials for the day, followed by mail run information, a help session for anyone with a technical problem, then "items from the bilge" for sale or trade. It's a good way to get to know what is going on and some of the characters of the river. One guy calls himself "Space Cowboy" over the radio. Not sure what he did in his previous life but he's an amateur astronomer now. He is on the net regularly informing us all of night time sky events, including an impressive meteor shower in November.

Fronteras is a great little town. Many shops, none very large on a very narrow busy high street. Busy, noisy bustling with activity. We were surprised at the variety of shops and availability of goods. After the horrific prices and poor choice and quality of supplies in Placencia in Belize, the prices in Fronteras are very reasonable. There is a far greater choice of foodstuffs and good fresh fruit and vegetables. Very few shopkeepers speak English, so we are doing our best to quickly learn some basic Spanish.

Art & Joan have been great guides and taxi drivers in their dinghy. They leave here on the 26th October to fly back to the US, so we have to get our dinghy organised. Mind you, the current out in the river is so strong we are not sure our small outboard will cope.

Many jobs on Dreaming On. Modification to the helm to take changes in instruments, lots of wiring of new gizmos, some carpentry in the salon and some technical glitches to resolve.

We are in a rush to get everything fixed, in some cases on a temporary installation, so we can take advantage of a weather window to head north before the end of the month.


Sergio and Gustavo working on the mods to the helm set-up to fit new chartplotter


The new helm with  the new chartplotter


Dennis with his crew putting the finishing touches on the new salon table


Swallows take a break during a sunny spell


Late October 2008



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Starter motor dismantled



We are still "Dulcinea-ing" on in the Rio Dulce as the new graphics for "Dreaming On" to complete re-name and registration are "in the mail." Quite how long mail takes from Annapolis, US to this one horse town of Fronteras is unknown, but they are on their way.

It has rained, (torrential tropical rain) every day but one since we arrived on 14th. Our dock has all but disappeared as the lake and river waters rise. Jobs we are having done are slow due to the weather.

But we are having fun. We have met up with old friends here and made new ones. Lots of great little watering holes competing for the best happy hour deals and meal specials.

Prices are good, local people very friendly. Learning a little Spanish as very few here speak English.

Much higher percentage of catamarans here due to the shallow waters around Belize and the shallow bar at the entry to the Rio Dulce. Cruisers down here are serious long-timers and have some great tips on equipment and improvisations.

Art and Joan from OK Fine


Dave Lee and Deborah onboard Expectations



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Halloween at Mario's




Every day on the morning VHF net there are invitations from the various independent and marina based restaurants to happy hours, daily lunch specials, dinner specials and any other excuse to get people together.

Halloween was no exception. With the predominance of expats in the Rio being American and with Halloween being such a big thing in the US, it was a foregone conclusion that someone would run a Halloween do.

Mario's Marina, a little way down the river and usually a step ahead in the social scene organised a fantastic BBQ and Halloween fancy dress evening. Collection provided free by fast launch as it's a long way in a dinghy particularly at night.

We did not have the wherewithal to prepare fancy dress, so went with Dave and Deborah from "Expectations" dressed as two British cruisers!

It was a great evening.


John McCain and Sarah Palin!

      Still in the Rio Dulce    
First week of November 2008



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Dreaming On with new graphics




La Joya del Rio




Our documents and graphics arrived to re-christen Dulcinea as Dreaming On. There are all kinds of superstitions about renaming a boat. But, we felt that Dulcinea, having been a working boat, needed a new soul, a new identity and would happily accept re-christening. And she looks smart in her new livery, although we only have graphics for the stern fixed so far.

Our port engine starter motor packed up. As that engine drives the refrigeration, we switched the starter motor from the starboard engine to keep the port engine available for daily refrigeration cooling. Then tried to repair the broken starter locally. A few false starts made us realise that a repair might be possible but we would still have an old starter with an unknown lifespan. Better to buy a new replacement. So ordered 2 new units from the US. Shipping and duty are expensive so looking into alternative methods of getting them to the Rio Dulce.

The rain has stopped, the weather is beautiful, the water level is dropping and we now have our little dinghy on loan so are independently mobile, (within limits)..... See below.

Met up with Dave Lee and crew member Deborah on catamaran Expectations. Deborah is changing to another boat to make her slow way back to the US. Dave is heading off to the Bay Islands of Honduras and beyond but will be back on the Rio for the next hurricane season. We enjoyed their company. Dave has a great sense of humour, a wealth of local area knowledge and catamaran and fish-catching experience. He has given us some very useful tips. We look forward to meeting up with him again next year.

Also in the same marina is Roberto on the 88 year old wooden Chesapeake fishing boat "Winnie Estelle" that he found wrecked on a reef in Belize and has restored piece by piece. A great character with a real challenge on his hands keeping Winnie Estelle in good order while waiting for the fuel price to drop so he can afford to move her again!

Our immediate marina neighbours Uschi and Gode on catamaran Mola Mola are from Germany, Again great catamaran experience along with 10 years of sailing and diving around the Belize and Honduran coasts and most of the Caribbean. Geoff can confirm that Uschi makes great homemade cheesecake.

Fronteras Bridge





Looking towards Tortugal Marina



The Dinghy


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Dave with Deborah taking us shopping to Fronteras in their dinghy


A dinghy is an essential piece of equipment. Shopping, socialising, clearing in and out of customs and immigration, cleaning the sides of the boat and in the case of the marinas on the Rio Dulce, a dinghy is the only way to go anywhere as there are no roads.

In storage in Annapolis, we have a large 11’ 5” hard bottomed inflatable dinghy with a 10HP engine.

However, Dreaming On came without a dinghy. Fortunately, our friend Curtis Collins who now lives on the Rio Dulce agreed to loan us a dinghy for the trip back to the US. It’s an 8’ foldable inflatable dinghy with a hard panelled but flexible floor and we carried a new 2.5HP engine in a bag when we flew down to Belize. Small they may be and vulnerable we may feel when crossing the Rio Dulce to go shopping, but we have been surprised by the guts of the little engine and the stability of the little boat.

Our journey lengths are limited by its size and the state of the water, so we could not make all the social events around the river as some are just too far, but it copes with essential transport for now.

The local dinghy -Cuyaco

      A quick trip to Honduras (San Pedro Sula) and Florida  


5-8 November 2008





Iza made a brief trip back to Florida between the 4th and 8th November to pick up 2 new starter motors. (Air fare being cheaper than shipping costs and potential duty).

A 4 hour bus ride at 10 am from Fronteras, (our local town on the river) to San Pedro Sula in Honduras. There's a brief stop outside Morales to change buses, quite comfortable with air-conditioning.  Another stop at the border; $3 or 60 Honduran Lempira. Arrive at 2 pm at the main bus station in San Pedro. A bus ride (7 L) to the centre of town.  Roberto had recommended the Gran Hotel Sula which is in the main square and which has a lobby, business centre for internet access and a coffee shop as a place to wait as the flight to Fort Lauderdale with Spirit Airlines does not depart until 2am. Plenty of time to wander around the town. Every second shop appears to be a shoe shop!  At 9 pm, time to find a taxi to the airport ($15).

Surprisingly, the flight is only 1 hour 50 minutes, arrival in Fort Lauderdale very early the following morning, ready to race around shops and post Rio Dulce mail.

Spent two nights with great friends John & Mikki Powers in Vero Beach. John & Mikki have been our mail drop since we left the US, so were receiving daily deliveries for us. Also brought back other bits for Geoff to finish cabling and configuring the electronics.

Spirit departs Fort Lauderdale at 11.30 pm, arriving San Pedro Sula 12.30 am local time. Customs and immigration very polite and quick, no questions regarding the various boat equipment. 2 am taxi to town, having made no hotel arrangements as was concerned that would miss the early bus to Guatemala. Hoping that the coffee shop at the Gran Hotel Sula would be open, unfortunately only opens at 6 am but the receptionist let Iza sit in the lobby until 5 am. Taxi to the bus station (200L). The bus line is Fuerte del Norte, bus leaves at 6 am. Stop for Guatemalan immigration at the border then a change of buses outside Morales.  Bit of a wait as the bus to Fronteras was full and had to wait for the next bus. Arrived Fronteras 11 am, then some serious sleep deprivation catch up once back on board Dreaming On. 



      Ready to leave?  


11 November 2008



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Castillo San Felipe, Lago Izabel

We have enjoyed our stay in the Rio Dulce, made many new friends and met some old friends. But, we are still camping out on board Dreaming On with all our stuff still in US. So amidst the many essential and a few non-essential jobs we decided to complete in the Rio, we were constantly looking for a suitable weather window to Florida.

The sail back to Florida at this time of year was always going to be a challenge. The winds are persistently from the north and the Yucatan Current up the northern coast of Belize and between Mexico and Cuba runs up to 4 knots north, so wind and sea conflict causing some really nasty seas.

A few days after Iza returned to the Rio, a weather break finally appeared, but a very brief one. Northerly winds were due to ease on Tuesday 11th and gradually move to easterly, though not very strong. Seas were also due to settle. However, there was a strong cold front heading south from the US, due in the Yucatan area late on Saturday 15th and we would have to be in safe harbour for that. Making it all the way through to Key West by Saturday afternoon within the weather window would be tight. 

After fitting the new starter motor and some of the electronics cabling, we took Dreaming On out for a test into the river and the beginnings of Lago Izabel, the enormous lake just a short distance up river that we had not seen yet. Guarding the entrance to Lago Izabel is the Castillo San Felipe and very attractive old fort right on the water's edge. We also topped up with water and fuel for the trip north.

On Tuesday 11th, we pulled out of our lagoon marina La Joya del Rio into the main Rio Dulce river at 7am to head down river to clear out at Livingston. Not all of our electronic configurations were working but enough to make the decision to go.

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On route to Florida












USA: 1-954 4785948        UK:  +44 7855388258         Skype: geoff.iza