Net Control

Put half a dozen cruising boats in the same vicinity and pretty soon there will be a VHF or SSB radio net. Here we’re under the aegis of the Northwest Caribbean Net, meeting on 6209 USB at 1400 UTC, 0800 local time, covering Isla Mujeres to San Andres and Providencia, and sometimes beyond.

There are people who love the nets. I’m one of them. It’s like getting a local newspaper full of information, business, gossip; and it’s always such a revelation to match the voice personality to the vessel if you do ever come across them.

And there are people who hate the nets. I’m one of them too. Endless holiday greetings and blathering on about restaurants and pets, people who don’t listen and fail to communicate, people whose act is not together. Sometimes I find myself shouting at the radio “That’s not what she said!” or “Pay attention!”

So now, I’m the net controller, the mouth behind the mike myself. Apparently I have the radio signal and the voice for it, and, being, I’m told, a bossy older sister, also the training. Tuesday mornings at 8 you’ll find me at the chart table, which has been cleaned off so everything can be written down, pencils sharpened, script propped before me, mike in hand, and as the GPS ticks to the top of the hour, I introduce myself and ask everyone to listen for emergency or priority traffic. It’s all downhill from there.

Vessels underway check in with position reports– today was busy with 12. Boats are going north to Isla Mujeres, and coming south from there; with a new moon high tide they’re coming out of the Rio Dulce; a break in the weather opens windows out of Providencia and San Andreas, and there are short hops in Belize and the Bay Islands too.
“Any relays for vessels I’m not hearing?”

You wouldn’t think it would be so entertaining to watch these little amoebas gliding off across a microscope slide; maybe it’s more like the weird fascination of watching the Weather Channel. We have one of those too, a cruiser who downloads NOAA and other sources and broadcasts the results to the fleet. He’s the single most popular and effective member of this community, although sometimes the forecast and the actual weather are marching to different drummers.
“Fills needed on the weather? Come now.”

Next comes the section called QSTs – basically: what do you need? Information? Parts? Got something to buy, sell or trade? On my days, this section runs together with general check-ins. ‘Wait to be recognized!’

“Jeff’s selling spare parts from his outboard that was stolen before Christmas. Randy’s got a VHF. Are there markers in that pass? Anyone have a phone number for the shipyard? Bob had a ‘4-foot long thick-bodied snake’ on the anchor when he arrived from mainland Belize to an outer cay.” (This is unusual!)

Next check-in, come now. Okay, I’ve got Windquest, My Way, and one other, all together. Windquest, go.

“Be aware that the Port Captain in Coxen Hole, Roatan, speaks better English than he lets on. New green channel marker at West End, Roatan. Is my radio better today? Can anyone carry a package from Port Royal to Utila? To Cuba? I don’t think we got an accurate measurement when we got diesel the other day, and it was poor quality. We’re still here in French Harbor, no traffic. I’d like to talk to xxx after the net….”

It goes on like that for half an hour or so, until “one last call for check-ins for the Northwest Caribbean Net”. I like to imagine people “reading the mail” as they drink coffee, wash the dishes, brush their teeth; plotting the course of their day with the net in the background. But on Tuesdays, I hope they’re not yelling at the radio, or at least, not at me. I’ve done what I can to “facilitate communications among vessels”, until next week. “Thanks, everyone, for participating. The net is now closed and the frequency available for general use.”

Diving in Roatan

Sounds like North America is having quite the winter. Just so you don’t think we’re just lotus-eaters down here in the tropics, I’ll report that your big strong cold fronts drag their tails down here, bringing squally showers, gusty winds and chilly blanket and baking weather. Right now we’ve both got colds.
But in the two halcyon days which followed Christmas, we did some actual SCUBA diving. What’s great about Roatan is how convenient this is – the shore is lined with dive sites easy to get to by dinghy. Some you can even walk to, like the wreck of the Prince Albert, which lies (was placed, actually) in the channel between the two nearest resorts, CocoView and Fantasy Island.
In towns like West End, dive shops are the mainstay of the main street.
In the giddy early days of a regular paycheck (thank you Fitz!), we bought a SuperSnorkel hookah rig, basically a lawnmower engine running a compressor feeding two 40-ft hoses with regulators. We haven’t used it nearly as much as we’d planned, since storage and access issues were insurmountable. In fact, it spent most of its life in our storage shed. Now in Roatan, it’s coming into its own (we store it in the cockpit), but it’s also for sale, and being replaced by our single new BC, dive tank and regulator. We’ll pay to rent the other stuff when a place like Mary’s Place comes along.

from Roatan Dive Guide, by Ignacio Gonzales
UPDATE: As you can see this is a nice dive guide, and a second edition expanded and updated is now available at
This crevice was formed by volcano, or earthquake? aeons ago and was only 5′ wide in places. We went down to 97 feet where the colors are generally gone but still, the cobalt void spread endlessly beyond.
Another dive took us to a wall, half of which had ‘slumped’ in last year’s earthquake. Probably, at 2AM, no one was there for that experience. And we saw a couple wrecks – Doug’s favorite because ‘there’s something to see, not just fish and coral over and over again.’

Or a pair of lobsters.
In case you wondered what the inside of a dive tank looks like: this one is engraved with a story about how it exploded – fire and the proximity of 35 other tanks were involved.

All underwater photos taken by Wally Larsen. for definition of lotus eater – more apt than I’d expected!