[private] Open sea windsurfing from the Bay Islands to the Coast has been a part of Honduras for over 30 years. While most people windsurf inside the reef, a few venture outside, a few miles out or farther, where the wind is steady and strong. The eastern trade winds make windsurfing north-south, causing trips between the islands and mainland to be a challenging possibility which few have tried. Here is the story of two such men.
Port Royal to Trujillo
Jack Wood, an American journalist, had come to Roatan to visit a friend, Erick Anderson, who lived in Port Royal on Roatan’s southeast shores. Jack had just missed running into Erick, who had sailed to Trujillo, 63 kilometers or 34 nautical miles away. The outline of the Sierra de La Esperanza, on which footsteps laid Trujillo, was visible in the distance. It was October 1980, and eastern winds were blowing pretty predictably.
Jack Wood, 65 at the time, was an adventurer by nature whose passions took him all over the world. “He was determined and stubborn,” Erick described of his friend. A couple years before, Jack had taken part in an expedition attempting to locate the lost White City in the Honduran interior.
Jack called Erick from Port Royal on the radio. “Is there a windsurfer I can play with?” asked Jack nonchalantly. Erick said that yes, there was, and that a plane was leaving the next morning which could deliver him easily to Trujillo. Little did Erick expect that Jack was considering embarking on a solo crossing to Trujillo on the borrowed windsurf board.
At the time Jack was a windsurfing novice, his experience limited to trips in the flat waters of Biscayne Bay outside Miami. Perhaps Jack’s inexperience kept him from dwelling on what many expert sailors and seasoned windsurfers consider a dangerous enterprise-crossing open sea to Honduras’s mainland.
Jack embarked upon the expedition with much gusto, but one thing he lacked was supplies and back-up equipment. He had no sunglasses, no compass, not even a hat. Just a view of Honduran mountains tempting him from miles ahead. “There were 15-knot trade winds blowing and three foot seas,” describes Erick of the day of the crossing.
Windsurf boards in the 1980s were heavy and awkward, and Jack’s board was no exception. It wouldn’t go fast, but with a centerboard and a fin it could sail upwind at around 20 degrees. The sail was made of cloth and covered an area of around 5.5 square meters. It was small enough to be handled in heavy winds without losing control.
When the plane from Roatan didn’t arrive the following morning at the Trujillo airport, Erick radioed to his Port Royal home to ask about Jack. The guard said that Jack had gotten up early and had windsurfed through the Port Royal channel towards Trujillo.
According to the workers in Port Royal, Jack Wood had sailed out of Port Royal around 8 a.m. “He was wearing only Speedos and a pair of tennis shoes,” recalls the Erick. In one shoe Jack carried $20 worth of Lempiras, in the other–a comb. No life vest, not even a watch.
Jack was a character like few others. At 65, he owned a graphic design business in Miami and did freelance writing for in-flight magazines like TACA, COPA and TAN Airlines. “He didn’t do it for the money, but to get a free ticket for him and his friend,” said Erick. “He was a good photographer and a good writer.”
By 11 a.m. Erick was flying in his small Cessna plane looking for Jack, to no avail. The Bay of Honduras was covered with cresting waves, but with no sign of a windsurfer. “It was a toss up if we were ever to see him again,” says Erick. He and his wife Teri went to sleep in a gloomy mood, expecting the worse.
Sometime around midnight Jack reached the coast of Honduras, several miles west of Trujillo. He then sailed and pushed his board east toward Trujillo town. He was looking for the spot where Erick had anchored his S/V Taramina, an 80′ Ketch.
Around 6 a.m., Erick heard a loud banging on the wood hull of the sailboat. “Erick, got some water?!” were Jack’s first words. He was burned, red, and his hands were raw, full of broken-up blisters. Jack had been holding onto the mahogany boom for 22 hours straight.
After a few gulps of water Jack asked for a cold bottle of Coca Cola. This moment is when Erick took the one photograph of Jack.
Jack was not a typical journalist and definitely not a typical windsurfer. At 65, he accomplished a feat few men in their 20s or 30s would dare. He would return a few more times to Roatan and attempt a few other windsurfing feats around the globe. Jack lived to the age of 92.
The Utila Back-and-Forth
The sea in the Gulf of Honduras can change from hour to hour. Before the age of cell phones and GPSs, the crossing was an adventure only for the confident and self-reliant. In the early 1980s fewer planes and fewer boats were around to come to the rescue of a lonely windsurfer.
Jack was in fact the second known person to perform a windsurfing crossing between the Bay Islands and Honduran coast. Preceding him on his islands to coast crossing by just a few months was an East German doctor who had recently moved to La Ceiba–Dr. Siegfried Seibt.
In February 1980, Dr. Seibt, who was working in La Ceiba’s Atlantida hospital, departed on his usual day-off morning windsurfing session. It was 8:00 a.m. and a steady wind was blowing from the northeast. Utila was clearly visible on the horizon, only 20 miles away.
Wearing a pair of shorts, a tee-shirt and a hat, Dr. Seibt sailed a couple miles off shore and decided he could go a bit farther. The wind was blowing Dr. Seibt directly towards Utila’s Pumpkin Hill. “I wish I’d had sunglasses as the glare was pretty bad,” remembered Dr. Seibt of the day.
Dr. Seibt was 38 at the time, married with two children. No one at his home or anywhere else for that matter knew he had departed on an open-sea journey. “I didn’t see anything to put fear in me. It was all just so wonderful,” described Dr. Seibt of his feelings as he set his windsurfing sail towards Utila. “I saw dolphins and turtles, some really big ones.”
After four hours on the board Dr. Seibt arrived at Utila’s East End Harbour. “People there asked me: ‘How did you bring this board? By plane or by boat?’ And when I said that I had sailed it, they just couldn’t believe me,” says Dr. Seibt. Utila town offered a chance to rest for an hour, drink some water and get a two-liter water bottle for the trip back.
The wind and weather held, and Dr. Seibt made his way back slowly towards the Honduran coast and La Ceiba. “Pico Bonito seemed so close that you could almost touch it,” explained Dr. Seibt. He landed back on La Ceiba beach before sunset.
Today Dr. Siegfried Seibt, is the owner of Euro Honduras hospital in La Ceiba. His hospital is situated in the center of the city by the sea, not far from the spot where 32 years ago the young doctor set out on his windsurfing expedition.
Dr. Seibt never sailed into the open sea again. In fact, he hasn’t undertaken anything like that since. “My family just forbid me to sail that far again,” explains Dr. Seibt.
Both windsurfers Dr. Seibt and Jack Wood decided to undertake their open ocean journey on a whim, without plans or preparations. They took their spirit of adventure and relative lack of knowledge of the open sea to achieve something few others have dared to do. [/private]