Cher screamed out about her "life after love, after love,
after love", my bus seat connected me with Belizean Captain
Morrell Young and his wife Leticia in Belize City, Belize. They
were waiting to take me and seventeen other passengers from Belize
City to Puerto Cortes, Honduras. This was to be my fifth such
crossing by such a speedboat as Captain Morrell's.
trip across the Bay of Honduras first takes two hours from Belize
City to the southern village of Placencia, on an average another
two hours to get a stamp in your passport from the Belizean immigration
official in Big Creek and then about two and a half hour to travel
by boat the eighty five miles to Puerto Cortes, Honduras. Also
on average, they loose a boat every month or so rolling them in
the massive ocean swells of the Bay of Honduras.
When the explorer Christobal Columbus had made the crossing, upon
his arrival he kneeled down after he crossed the Bay of Honduras
and thanked his God for delivering him and his men across the
deep waters, 'las honduras'. On a map it is today that stretch
of water between the former British colony of British Honduras
now called Belize and the Central American country to the southeast,
big water is what you will find out there in the 'bahia'. The
deep blue waters can swallow entire boats with all their passengers
and crews and have been known to do so time and time again. Phantom
storms roll in raging from the Caribbean, storms that have been
picking up their steam since traveling from as far away as the
west coast of Africa.
Morrell worked the route twice weekly, basing his operation out
of the fishing village of Placencia on the south coast of Belize.
His Honduran wife Leticia handled the immigration paperwork, the
passports and all the money, while second mate 'Morrell Junior',
Marvin to his dad, worked the passengers. Marvin caring secured
their luggage away during boarding, and offered up 'horchata'
punch and sandwiches during the voyage.
For myself as I mentioned, I had now done the crossing five times.
Two coming from Honduras, three going out of Belize. The first
three times I had traveled with a Captain Charlie Leslie. Charlie
too worked his boat 'The Kingfisher' out of the village of Placencia.
With Charlie, Belizean immigration had lasted at most all of fifteen
minutes, forty-five minutes tops on both ends. But he also took
four hours to cross. The extra two hours were spent snorkeling
and eating lunch on Charlie's island, Little Pumpkin Caye.
Charlie also had a rule he lived by. He would never set out to
cross the bay if the sun was not shining in Big Creek, the last
officially scheduled Belizean stop. He would keep travelers waiting
days to catch the weather right. For Charlie would always say,
"No matter how calm Placencia, 'la Bahia' will eat you alive."
was on my very first voyage with Captain Charlie that I met the
now infamous 'Austrian Tour Guide', Miss Gina. A young Viennese
woman in her late twenties, when I first met Gina she was coming
off a hard night of partying as she is known to do on occasion.
This occasion she had been celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday.
At the time she was in Latin America from Vienna, Austria, chasing
another college degree while studying the effects of tourism on
the indigenous culture of the people found over on the island
of Utila, located twenty miles north off the coast of Honduras.
For me, I was running from my life back home, chasing the daylight
south for the Panama Canal. Amongst all the passengers that day,
Miss Gina and I were the only two 'gringos' on board.
this day, she and I disagree over the fact that I say she fleeced
me out of my last two Belizean dollars so she could buy herself
a warm breakfast that last morning in Placencia. She swears it
never happened. I say it was fate that we met each other in the
first place, she says I just might be right and that time should
tell. I have little doubt that I will be proven right in the final
The trail had now returned me to the crossing some three years
to the day from that first voyage with 'the Austrian tour guide'
on Captain Charlie's Kingfisher. It was now Captain Morrell and
his boat the Gulf Cruza that I would be traveling onboard. The
captain had promised me on my previous voyage with him and Leticia
that he would extend to me a complimentary free passage back to
Honduras the next time I came through. Although I questioned his
generous offer at the time, this happened to be that next time,
and I was now boarding in Belize City without regrets.
The sun was just coming up and the seas were already pounding
the breaker wall in Belize City. Captain Morrell's Gulf Cruza
was tied up pointing out of the harbor. The captain welcomed me
as I came onboard. Marvin took my packs and put them away inside
the lower cabin, there inside a center compartment that was strategically
built into the framework of the boat that separated the two rows
of comfortable padded benches available for the passengers who
were seated around the cabin's perimeter.
As we pulled away from the dock in Belize City, Captain Morrell
with a light feather's touch of his right hand, opened up the
twin Mercury outboards and in minutes we were in the open channel
heading south. Off in the distance to our right we passed the
point at Dangriga not forty minutes later. The seas that morning
were not calm but they were definitely not too choppy.
south towards Honduras where we would eventually be heading, the
skies were black and dark. I have to admit I felt a bit uneasy
that day, but when it comes to the Bay of Honduras, I always am.
It is my deepest respect for things concerning adventure on water
that keeps me ever humble.
And sure, I had been on the 'big water' once before with Captain
Morrell, but that had been a crossing on a blue sky Belizean day.
There had not been a cloud in the sky, and the bay during that
crossing had been like a glass tabletop.
day we made our stop for additional passengers and fuel in Placencia
at half past eight in the morning. A lone traveler from Sweden
boarded as the fueling was completed and we headed south for Big
Creek immigration and customs at nine thirty.
Myself, I have traveled across a lot of land borders. That said,
the process in Big Creek, Belize, for some reason is the slowest
and most cumbersome that I have encountered. When it was all said
and done this day, it was high noon and we were still in Belize.
And to top it off, it was starting to drizzle a light rain. As
we waited there on the dock in Big Creek, I turned and looked
out towards 'the big water' towards Honduras. But I realized I
could not see anything for all the mangroves that lace the inlet
where the Gulf Cruza was patiently tied up waiting for the Belizean
officials to let her go.
we finally received our exit stamps and paid our exit fees, it
was twelve forty-five. Captain Morrell then slipped down his Wayfarer
sunglasses and Marvin unleashed the Gulf Cruza. The captain spun
the Gulf Cruza around, pointed her nose south and cranked down
the twin Mercs. The Captain then exclaimed, "Vamonos mis
amigos. We're out of here."
a clear day as you leave the quiet inlet in Big Creek, Belize,
you first wind your way through the mangroves that splash there
bright green splendor against the turquoise blue water. The boat
weaves through tight passageways until it finds the way to the
open channel. Also on a clear day as you head for Honduras, back
over your shoulder you can see the Mayan Mountains off in the
distance as well as Belize's highest mountain, Mount Victoria.
The sight is truly a spectacular one to behold.
This day, as we exited the mangroves for the open water, it was
a gray day and the water refused to show us any beauty. Immediately
the Gulf Cruza was in chopping white water. I looked out and could
only see Captain Morrell’s deck shoes above me where he
was standing on the captain’s bridge. Where captain Morrell
stood, there was no cover from the elements. He had the ship’s
wheel in his left hand, and the throttle to the Mercury engines
in his right. The rain was building and I found myself thinking
about how the rain pellets must surly hurt as they bounce off
Captain Morrell's face. Regardless, he still had his Gulf Cruza
baseball hat on his head and he was still behind the Wayfarer
sunglasses. He was also still sporting a Belizean grin from the
bridge of the Gulf Cruza all the way to Chicago.
As I lost myself in Captain Morrell's security, I tried to read
an English speaking newspaper but I started to drift in and out.
On one of those drifts back out I was jolted as the boat slammed
down hard against the water. I then stood up to take a look see
about. The rain was now blowing sideways from all directions.
As I stood to look at the situation, I noticed that there were
now ocean swells on both sides of the boat that were peering down
upon me, towering some twenty-five feet or more above the boat.
And there in the middle of it all, Captain Morrell was running
the center lane through the swells, one of which had just whacked
us sideways, the same one that had just jolted me out of my slumber.
The rain and the wind were howling, and there was Captain Morrell,
soaking wet to the bone, but still smiling, and still pushing
down the hammer on the Gulf Cruza.
We had already tied up at the old bridge in front of immigration
office in Puerto Cortes, Honduras, when I finally decided it was
safe enough to crawl out from the passenger quarters onto the
rear deck of the Gulf Cruza. Leticia was already in the Honduran
customs house paving the way for our entree, and second mate Marvin
was busy with the other passengers reuniting them with their stowed
As I stepped out, Captain Morrell climbed down off the bridge.
"Well, it seems you are soaked through and through Captain.
Kind of bouncy out there today, would you not agree Morrell?"
Laughing as only Captain Morrell could, he quickly harped back,
"Not a bit Mr. Monroe... She was a lot worse for d'weather,
Relieved to be on solid ground again, I said my good-byes and
found me a cheap hotel down the beach from the Honduran customs
house for the night. The newspaper the following day reported
that tropical depression Katharina had moved through the Bay of
Honduras during the previous seventy-two hours, the same time
during which we had made our crossing. The port at Cortes in fact
had been officially closed to all shipping during that time.
from "Tales from on the Surface ...And The Road Goes On"
by Julian Monroe Fisher