Update Aug. 19, 2001

Sailing vessel Ariel was the last boat to cross the shallow sand bar on a rising tide into the Rio Dulce River of Guatemala at 8:00AM Aug. 20, 2001. The eye of Chantal was 194 miles away. We closed the door behind us.

2:00AM Aug 21, 2001 Chantal slammed into the coast of Mexico at Xcalak near the Mexico, Belize border dumping 4.5 inches of rain in one hour with winds gusting up to 65mph.

Ariel is now safe at rest in a slip at Tortugal Marina 17 miles inland up the Rio Dulce River where she will remain until Oct. 1, 2001.


Aug. 20 to Oct. 7, 2001
Log: Dockside at Tortugal Marina, Rio Dulce Guatemala

Ariel enters a different world from vast endless horizons, rolling blue seas, salty air, and impending hurricanes to find the calm placid fresh green waters up the “sweet river” a perfect ‘hurricane hole’.
 It was not until 1985 that the first real ‘cruising’ sailboat crossed the one-half mile shallow sand bar and ventured up into the narrow winding Rio Dulce.


The jungle closed in as we motored against a strong outflowing current between steep limestone canyon walls covered with lush tropical foliage, wet dripping vines,bromeliads and exotic plants. We dodge tiny wooden dugouts called ‘cayucos’ from which local fishermen heave small circular cast-nets in an ever widening pattern across the water. Along the banks hidden among the thick jungle are the occasional tiny thatched roof native hut and a myriad of bird life. Great white egrets, pelicans, cormorants, and kingfisher are a few. The air is much cooler among the trees.

Just past the El Golfete, a widening in the river, we find the small town of Fronteras and a dozen or so gringo marina’s scattered over a mile along both shores, all catering to the cruising  population.


Ariel found her spot for over a month tied stern to in the first slip next to the deliciously tempting French restaurant at Tortugal Marina.
 Here we could smell the fresh Guatemalan coffee brewing in the espresso machine only 20 feet away. Our greatest pleasure was taking one step off Ariel to a dockside table in bare feet for an elegant meal of filet mignon, baked potato in mushroom sauce, salad and wine for only $6 US.
   Up until two years ago this pristine area was developing rapidly, tourism picking up with over 400 boats counted in a good cruising season. Today less than 100 boats venture in due to the increase of crime and lack of police controls. We experienced our first Mayday when s/v Obsession reports three gunmen approaching their boat near El Golfete. Although shots were fired, no one was hurt but for all of us listening to this crime unfold on our VHF radios, it was a lesson in vulnerability. The community of cruisers is tight. Within seconds cruisers went into action and the outcome was positive.
 Radio communication is like open telephone lines, functions unfolding daily from pot lucks, sailing races with water balloon fights, sewing circles to almost any type of info given or received on where, what, when and how. Many cruisers here today came years ago and never left. This little subculture of ex-cruising live aboards were informative and helpful and are instrumental in getting police patrols and safety heightened. They were also helping in getting us newcomers involved in events with the local schools, orphanages and medical facilities. Every Saturday was the swap meet at Mario’s Marina and a big social gathering. The locals joined in and were the bulk of the ones buying. Despite the negative aspects of the Rio there was just as much positive and we enjoyed a fellowship of community quite unlike anywhere else.
During our interlude in the river, a large group of cruisers shared study aids and info on taking the amateur Ham Radio Test. This is one of the most popular methods for cruisers to communicate and now for sending email directly from a boat through high frequency radio waves. Steve passed three tests, outfitted Ariel with the Pactor II modem and signed up for Win Link email service to send and receive email free directly off Ariel even far out at sea.
 Ariel also got a new overhaul on the steering system, changed the autopilot from and 12 volt to a 24 volt added a new insulators and grounding of the single side band radio on the backstay, and wired up the new dive compressor. And still had time for a few outings between all the work and Rio social events.
 One exceptional outing was sailing Ariel on up the Rio to Lago Izabal. Here the Rio widens out to a huge placid lake with floating plants and sandy beach. After a wonderful evening with a pot luck Bar-B-Q on the beach we hiked the next day through open pastures with cowboys on horseback rounding up cattle, to the base of the mountains where a huge HOT waterfall fell into a cool refreshing river We were caught in a cold rain shower so stood beneath the falls. The gallons of hot water pounding down over our heads was like a natural healing massage. When the rain ceased, steam rose eerily in billowing clouds from the rocks and river.

 Sunset in the Rio Dulce River Guatemala


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