Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Off the Coast of Nicaragua: Part Two

Here come the Coast Guard. Off the coast of Nicaragua. 

We left Roatan when we did solely because of the weather. The easterly trade winds were going to be quiet for three more days, giving us enough time to round the point and start heading south. After that, the wind would get back to its normal routine of blowing 15 to 25 knots due east. Our plan worked quite well. We rounded the point, turned off the engine and sailed with a decent amount of wind most of the way to Providencia. With that wind, however, we also got to experience some big ocean swells, and the worst night was on Saturday with waves of about eight to ten feet. One of those waves literally knocked me out of bed while I was sleeping. I hit the cabin floor directly on my left elbow and had two thoughts simultaneously. One was: Wow, I hope I didn’t break my elbow. And the other was: I’m really stupid for not putting that lee cloth up like I said I would after practicing my gecko sleeping technique across the entire the Gulf of Mexico.
My third thought was: Who breaks their elbow falling out of bed? That’s just ridiculous. And yet that wasn’t as strange as what happened to us a few hours later. We were boarded by the U.S. Coast Guard in international waters off the coast of Nicaragua. For a safety inspection. 
Vlad and I have talked extensively about how much we like the Coast Guard, especially after we saw them get into a water cannon fight with the sunset cruise ships in Key West (the coasties won, obviously). What other group of government officials is concerned about your individual safety and wellbeing, will do everything they can to rescue you, risking their own lives in the process, and will have a water cannon fight with tourists? You don’t see the guys from Customs doing that. 

But we were surprised to see a massive military ship cruising by us at 5:30 on Sunday morning, and then, as per Vlad’s prediction at 6:00 a.m., we got a radio call from the vessel saying that they wanted to board us. At that point, we didn’t know it was the Coast Guard, and what with the ginormous navy boat circling us we were not sure what to expect. We’d heard horror stories about Homeland Security people tossing boats, taking everything out of lockers and basically trashing the place, which sounded like a special kind of hell after six days on the ocean and in six to eight-foot swells. 
So we were pleasantly surprised when we realized it was the Coast Guard. About six officers came up on a small motor boat, somewhat like a souped up dinghy, and two of them came aboard despite the waves. They did a routine safety inspection (we passed!!), and we got to hang out and chat with them for a while. Evidently, they are assigned to a British Navy boat and had been out for two months patrolling these waters for drug runners. We were the third boat they had seen the entire two months, which must get kind of boring after a while. It also might explain why they were having a mustache growing competition. 
Aren't they adorable?

I can’t tell you how surreal it is to be in the middle of nowhere, more than a thousand miles from the U.S., and have the Coast Guard board your boat. The best way I can describe it is comforting. Sure, it slowed us down (yes, it’s shocking that we could go any slower), but it’s kind of a relief to know that the Coast Guard has your back even when you’re long way from home. They told us if we ever ran into any trouble - pirates of the Caribbean, etc. - all we had to do was get on channel 16 and they or the Navy would come find us. 
And if any of you Coast Guard officers who boarded us are reading this, happy Fourth of July! Come have a green chili cheese burger with us because I promise we will be better company than the Brits on this particular American holiday. No offense to the British, of course.
Also, in case anyone is concerned, my elbow is not broken. It swelled up, and I didn't have full range of motion. However, it has almost completely healed in the past three days. According to Vlad, I just bruised the bursa, the synovial fluid sack that encapsulates the joint. Whatever the case, I’m putting up a lee cloth before we leave Providencia. 


  1. Glad your elbow is okay and how weird to entertain guests aboard Bettie in the middle of the ocean....

    1. It was about as bizarre as it gets. Really, really bizarre.

  2. So what happens if you don't pass as US inspection and you are in international waters? Did you ask?

    1. The same thing that happens anywhere else. You either get a fine or a warning, and either way you have to pay up or prove that you've gotten whatever it is you need when you get back to the U.S.

      I believe that because we are Coast Guard registered they have jurisdiction anywhere, and I think they might have jurisdiction on any American boat. They did say that they had the right to check any boat in international waters to verify the country of origin. Fun times with the law of the sea!

  3. LOL, wild story. Must have felt like you were seeing a Mirage on the Horizon.

    That can't really be the US coast guard, can it?

    So cool they took a photo with you. And really glad your elbow isn't broken. When Tate was trying to haul up the manson boss anchor after our storm night he was handling the chain and his fingers got pinched. He said I think I broke my finger. Thankfully he hadn't but....

    AHH the horror that would have been. A broken finger on the man who needs to get the anchor up and then steer the boat for 4 hours under incredible weather helm in the Mobile Bay storm that happen just an hour later.

    That story and this story really bring to the forefront how important safety is! Must take every precaution you can to ensure working bones and joints.

    Here's to the U S of A.

    1. It was actually fun to have them aboard. Fun and totally not what we were expecting in the middle of nowhere!

      And safety is a huge deal out there. We always wear our harnesses and clip in, and Vlad and I have both discovered that the anchor chain is not to be trifled with.

  4. Hey there! My name is Mike! I'm one of the Coasties that came onboard that day! (the blonde one, lol) It was such a pleasure to meet you guys! I hope we didnt cause to much of an inconvenience that day! Thanks for the great post, and I'll definately keep reading to see how you guys are doing. Best wishes!

    1. Hey, Mike!! Thanks so much for posting! It was great to have y'all aboard, and we made it into Providencia safe and sound on Sunday. We also radioed on the 4th to say Happy Independence Day, but alas we were out of your range.

      Vlad and I just want to thank you and all the other Coast Guard officers for being out there. It really did make us feel a more comfortable knowing that you guys were around. Hey, and maybe the next time we see you guys we can have some beers. On land! That way no one gets sea sick. :)

      Stay safe out there, and have fun!