Thursday, January 7, 2016

Bryan Nellor

Barb and I met Bryan Nellor in September, 2003. He had just rigged his 41ft Cheoy Lee sailboat and was in the process of launching S/V Pearl S. Buck in Lake Pueblo. He didn't hide the fact that he had no time for chit chat, but it sure was a pretty boat. Kenna was very nice and spoke with us at length.
S/V Pearl S. Buck on Lake Pueblo, Colorado, USA, 2003

Barb and I sailed our Catalina 27 along side Bryan many days that summer and on one blustery day we enjoyed watching Bryan practicing single-handed jibing. We went back to the dock to hear that Bryan had been dismasted and we helped him secure Pearl in her slip when he came back. That put a several month delay on fun and more practice, but it did allow Bryan to upgrade the strength of his rigging and other components.

Barb and I had purchased our boat, S/V Jupiters's Smile in Florida, in May of 2004 and we knew we wanted to sail her to Galveston Bay to be closer (only 1000 miles away) to Colorado. By that time Bryan had decided to move Pearl to the same area. We looked forward to seeing him in Texas.

Barb and I sailed from Florida toward Texas beginning on December 1, 2004. We got as far as Biloxi, MS before Barb had to return to work and my friend, Larry took her place. On December 24th, Larry and I cruised up the Galveston ship channel in the dark, during a small craft advisory and snow. On a white Christmas, Larry and I contacted Bryan in Seabrook and we three finally found a restaurant to celebrate - at Denny's!

Barb and I, or I alone returned to Kemah several times throughout 2005 and sometimes we sailed along side Bryan in Galveston Bay. In September, Bryan and I weathered Hurricane Rita's evacuation order and our boats were left unscathed as Rita curved to the right. Unfortunately, that's where Bryan had sought shelter, in Beaufort, so he had a second evacuation. On January 7th, 2006 I said farewell to Bryan and Chris as I set out for Florida with a crew of four; Glenn Miller, Mike Nolan, Jerry Moritz and me. We made it to Tampa Bay, Florida eventually.

Bryan left Texas as well and cruised the Bahamas meeting Skip and Mary on Chrysallis and Ted and Judy on Helen Irene. We reunited with Bryan and Chris in Wrightsville Beach, NC that summer as we all decided to head north for hurricane season. Helen Irene stopped in Beaufort, NC, but Bryan Chris and we pushed on up the Intra-Coastal Waterway, anchoring in Portsmouth, VA. Together, we stopped to visit my cousin on the James River and then went upstream to visit Jamestown.

We anchored our boats near the replicas of the Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery,
launched our dinghies and tied up to the National Park Service dock. We toured the vessels and then found a Park Ranger. I asked the ranger where we could pay the admission fee and the look on his face was priceless. Had he just come upon aliens? He asked, "How did you get to where we are standing without paying?" I said, "The same way the Jamestown settlers did, by boat." We paid our fees and toured the historic site. We had to anchor and wait for a bridge opening on the way downriver. The next day we entered Chesapeake Bay. All was well until a blinding storm forced us to find shelter using my RADAR, communicating on a sketchy radio with Bryan. The following day we motored up the Potomac River toward Washington, DC to see the July 4th fireworks in the Capitol.

Getting to the anchorage in Washington Channel was no picnic. First we had to have the 50 ft. Woodrow Wilson Bridge opened. Our mast is 55 ft. and Bryan's is taller. The Woodrow Wilson Bridge is I-95/I-495 and only opens once a day and only if an appointment is confirmed 48 hours ahead. During the week the opening is at midnight. On weekends it opens at 10pm. This was a weekend and we had made our appointment, but a huge thunderstorm was rolling through the area. As the skies opened up with a torrent of rain and lightning lit up the sky I was unable to see where the bridge span would open and neither could Bryan. The navigation lights on the bridge were not lit and the new bridge span under construction on our side of it made the scene very confusing. The bridge operator said that three boats were coming through southbound and that would confirm the location of the open span for us. Indeed, as the southbound boats came through we located the opening and headed north. The bridge had been collecting rain for well over an hour and the roadway storm drain was producing a 45 ft high waterfall through which we had to drive our boats. Once through the bridge and up the river a short distance approaching Alexandria, I saw that logs and snags were rushing down the rain swollen Potomac and closing in fast. I feared for Bryan behind us and encouraged him to try to get closer to us and avoid the logs. We made it to the Anacostia River bifurcation and the Washington Channel and dropped the hook at around midnight. We had earned a wonderful fireworks show.

During our stay in DC Bryan and Chris met my parents and my brother, Larry and we did some sightseeing.

Departing DC was easier because we got permission from the bridge tender to follow a 90 ft., handmade, Panamanian sail boat with a 100ft. mast, at 6am on, July 6th through both the old and new bridges. The old bridge was demolished about a month later and the new bridge is 70ft. high so now we may come up the Potomac to DC without obstructions.

Panamanian sailing vessel Paharo Jai opens I-495, 0600, July 6, 2006. The old bridge is first and the new bridge is not yet open completely.
 We made stops in Annapolis and Baltimore before going through the C and D canal, rushing with the tide down the Delaware River to Cape May, NJ. At the bridge at Cape May, Pearl brushed her VHF antenna on the underside of the bridge, but caused no damage.

Cruising in the Atlantic along the Jersey shore we pulled into Manasquan Inlet and anchored along the banks of the river. Just at dark, a squall let loose 70 knot winds, but both boats stayed on their anchors with the help of our motors. The squall was terrifying, but short lived and the next day we sailed into Great Kill Harbor in Staten Island. Here we met a French boat, Kurika. We spent a memorable evening aboard with Jean and Josiane. Bryan helped us get back to our boat. Don't ask.

We ran with the tide through NY Harbor and into Long Island Sound.
Jupiter's Smile trailing behind and photographing Pearl heading north in 2006
With a brief beach landing in Smithtown Bay, Long Island, to visit my old stomping grounds, we sailed our boats through the Sound to New London, CT. where Bryan and Chris intended to stay for the summer hurricane season. This is where Bryan's friend Skip was working on S/V Chrysallis at the navy base and we got to meet him before parting ways as we left for our next destination, Swan's Island, Maine.

"I'm a cruiser and cruisers are not just a little nuts!!!"
On our return trip southbound we visited with Bryan and Chris in New London again and resolved to meet up to head to the Caribbean together. We accomplished that reunion with Pearl and Helen Irene in St. Augustine, FL. While waiting for Chrysallis to arrive we met Oscar and Sue on S/V Nautilus and enjoyed their company very much. 

(L to R) Oscar, Jay, Barb, Sue, Chris, Whisper, Mary, Judy, Ted, Skip & Bryan aboard Oscar and Sue's S/V Nautilus, St. Augustine, FL, January 102007.
We left St. Augustine taking the ICW to Vero Beach and Ft. Pierce. Here, Bryan hauled his boat to repair damage to his keel. With the damage repaired we headed south to Lake Worth where we met Roger and Adel on S/C Wild Horses. Being an experienced cruiser, especially when it comes to hospitality, Adel invited us for beverages and had a great time. While we waited for weather, we all did boat chores and sightseeing. Together, Chrysallis, Helen Irene, Pearl and Jupiter's Smile exited Lake Worth Inlet into the Atlantic and sailed south past Miami then, without stopping, at dawn, took a left turn towards the Bahamas making Gun Cay Cut by mid-afternoon the next day.

We gathered at Gun Cay. The plan had been to travel together through the Bahamas to the Caribbean without stopping for provisions, water or fuel, avoiding the $300 cruising permit fee and sailing under the yellow quarantine flag. 

Just before we left Florida, my father suffered a stroke. It was not too serious and he said we should go ahead with our plans. I didn't feel great about that and decided on a compromise. Barb and I would check into the Bahamas, cruise the islands and abandon the Caribbean plan. The other three boats planned to go on. We all sailed to Nassau together and on a Sunday they left to sail to Allen's Cay while we waited until Monday to buy a part we needed. We rejoined "the fleet" at Allen's Cay, snorkeling and enjoying the iguanas. The next day the fleet departed, but we stayed behind.

We heard that they eventually reached George Town. Skip was experiencing some health problems. Chris had second thoughts about cruising after having suffering a heart attack the year before in Marsh Harbor, the Abacos. Ted and Judy stayed in George Town and we caught up with the crew of Helen Irene after Chrysallis and Pearl headed north to the US.

The trip to the Caribbean was now off for the whole fleet. We spoke on the radio to Chrysallis on their way back north, but did not see Bryan again until a year later. During that time Bryan had returned to Florida and Chris and Whisper left Pearl. Bryan sailed back to Seabrook, TX and helped a couple of boat owners to move their boats across or around the Gulf and kept busy with varnish and boat repair business. Meanwhile, Barb and I decided to head to the Western Caribbean in the Spring of 2008 and so did Bryan.

To Guatemala, 2008

We left Florida and Bryan left Texas, May 5th, meeting in Isla Mujeras to check into Mexico, May 8th. Bryan had a crew of two women, Dorothy one of them. Dorothy had sailed the world's longitudes from Tonga, westward to Texas. She had intentions of finishing her circumnavigation and she urged Bryan along as well as she could. Bryan tended to move only after smelling the roses along the way. Pearl left Isla Mujeras soon after they arrived. Barb and I played and cruised along the Mexican coast southbound more slowly. We met Bryan and Dorothy again in Cay Calker, Belize on May, 25th.

We had gotten word from my brother, Tom, a NOAA Meteorologist, that a tropical storm, Alma, had formed in the Pacific and was forecast to cross Central America to reform as tropical storm Arthur within a week. He had advised that we get up the Rio Dulce before May 29th. We sailed through Belize quickly, stopping in Placencia to clear out of Belize. On May 28th, we paid our fees, checked into Guatemala, at Livingston, and motored up the Rio Dulce to ride out the storm in Texan Bay. The storm was a rain event for us, but back in Placencia, some cruisers and the Moorings charter fleet suffered damage from the wind and rising waters and nine people were killed in Belize.
Heading up the Rio Dulce, Guatamala, May 28, 2008 ahead of Hurricane Alma

Bryan, Barb and Dorothy on the Rio Dulce bridge. Bryan looks contented! June 3, 2008

Initially, we had Jupiter's Smile at the same marina as Pearl, Hacienda Tijax. Pearl was on a reasonably sturdy dock, but we were Med moored to a dock with rickety posts. Across the river, a small marina with sturdy new docks had opened. Our friends, Richard and Pam on S/C Tisha Baby pulled into Nana Juana and we negotiated a price with the new manager and tied up. The electric meter read 00000. We were the first occupants. Bryan stayed a Tijax.

Our boats spent the summer and Fall here. Bryan and I both commissioned sun shades to be made, we took Spanish lessons, we toured the Mayan ruins in Quirigua, Copan and Tikal with Bryan and Dorothy and others. Barb and I returned to the US for a short visit. 

Macaw Mountain Bird Sanctuary, Copan, Honduras, Oct 23, 2008.
Dinner in Copan with Jay, Barb, Dorothy, VIVA Bob, Richard, Bryan, Pam, Sue and Pat.  
Tikal, Guatamala, Nov 5, 2008

Bryan took this photo of Maestra y Dra. Iliana Sotomayor, Jay and Barb at Spanish class, Fronteras, Guatemala, 2008.

Bryan was always ready to help. An English cruiser was found by his girlfriend one morning, dead in his berth. A call on the radio prompted Bryan, a fellow named John from S/V Grace and me to help this woman. We extricated the naked body from the berth and wrapped him in a blanket. The Guatemalan officials would not do anything because the woman was not next of kin so John went back to his boat and using the Internet, found the British Civil Partnership Act of 2004 document between Elton John and his partner David Furnish. John photoshopped the couple's names into the document, printed it and slipped it to the woman. This satisfied the officials and the gentleman's body and his girlfriend were happily whisked away into the bureaucratic sunset after a long day.

One afternoon, a thick black plume of smoke began to rise rapidly near the Fronteras side of the Rio Dulce bridge. It turned out that the fire was from a diesel storage facility and in the evening I asked Bryan if he had seen it. In fact, Bryan had gone in his dinghy and as los bomberos (firemen) were fighting the fire he realized that the shut off valve need to be shut off if the fire was to be staunched. At great risk, he got to the valve and shut it off. 

Just down river from the town of Rio Dulce is an orphanage called Casa Guatemala. Many cruisers visit on their open house days, interact with the children and leave a donation. The hostel and restaurant, Backpackers, provides an income stream for the orphanage as well. Bryan volunteered to make repairs to the dormitory and spent the better part of two weeks using his woodworking skills to shore up and patch the roof. I believe he paid for the materials as well.

Barb and I were heading home to Colorado and Pam said she would ferry us from our boat to town to catch the bus. Once at the bus station, I realized I had left our passports on our boat. I used the VHF radio to call Bryan to ask him to run me back to our boat and then to the bus station again. He did that, without voicing any objection or passing judgement. Just there to help - always.

While we were in Colorado, our house sitter remarked that a cruiser had been killed in the Rio Dulce. We thought he was kidding at first, but it was true.  The victim was a man that Barb never met and one with whom I shared a couple of hours at a cruiser's weather seminar.  He was from Alaska. He intended to ready his newly purchased boat for cruising here in Rio Dulce so I felt some connection. Bryan had met the man and his wife while we were away. 

Four local bad men boarded his boat looking for dollars. They killed Dan and seriously injured Nancy. The men left with no dollars and only a little of the Guatemalan currency. Nancy has recovered. The long version and details may be found on the family’s blog:

While Bryan and I were visiting the agent, Raul, to renew our Guatemala cruising permit, the surviving wife came in and Bryan introduced me to Nancy. Her family had joined her and when Bryan inquired about her plans, she shared that she wanted to take the boat out sailing, but that they would need a captain because they had not had a chance to ever sail the boat and didn’t know how. Bryan volunteered to captain and I volunteered to help if they thought they needed help.

Bryan and I met the fledgling crew aboard S/V Sunday’s Child, soon to be renamed Kwiana, and we all went sailing and had a wonderful time. If you have checked their blog you already have a sense of the quality of people we accompanied. They are wonderful. I was at the helm initially while Bryan held a class for the rest of the crew on the foredeck teaching the differences between "port" and "starboard", "ropes" and "lines, sheets and halyards". Nancy was gracious and eager. Daughter, Jess and her husband, Brian seemed to take to sailing like they were born to it. Son Daniel, III, was a wizard at the helm and the instigator of a man/woman/whole crew (under the age of 50) overboard drill. Family friend, Alejandro took a turn at the wheel as well. While Renee seemed shy, she was watching closely. It was an almost perfect lake-sailing day with enough wind from the stern quarter to keep the boat moving, but not so much that any fears arose. At one point, after coming about, we had the boat heeled a bit and running with the wind just forward of the beam so she was moving out smartly. The crew seemed awestruck as the only sound that moment was the hiss of the bow cutting through the water. Nancy was moved to tears. This was what her husband would have wanted – a fine craft, doing what it was meant to do, with his family aboard and working together.....and life goes on. Get up each morning and treasure every minute. Hug your family. Help another. Accept another. Give everyone a cheery greeting. Appreciate. Celebrate. 

I feel blessed to this day, because Bryan Nellor reached out, yet again, to help his fellow man and I was lucky to be there to stand in his shadow as he did it.

S/V Jupiter's Smile and S/V Pearl S. Buck were often side by side, even on land! Abel's Boat Yard Fronteras, Guatamala November, 2008.
To Panama

VIVA Bob, Bryan and Dorothy and Barb and I left the Rio Dulce and Guatemala on December 1, 2008 and made our way toward Utila, Honduras. At an anchorage along the way VIVA Bob discovered an engine mount on one engine had broken and his other engine would not start. Bob was confident that he could run the one engine slowly and sparingly so we decided to head for the port of Le Ceiba so that Bob could get repairs done and told him we would sail along with him in case something worse happened. As we left the anchorage we came upon S/V Grace with a dead engine trying to enter the anchorage we were leaving. We advised Elaine and John to follow us, under sail, to Le Ceiba as well. VIVA, a bigger boat and a catamaran was soon out of sight sailing smartly to Le Ceiba. It became apparent that Grace would not make Le Ceiba by dark, but Bryan and I stuck with her when we heard Bob reporting on the radio that there was room inside the breakwater and that the entrance was easy. The wind fell off as darkness set in so Bryan and I motored into the anchorage. Bob had launched his dinghy and he picked up Bryan to go tow Grace into the anchorage. I got our dinghy launched and went out to help tow. We had now entered Honduras so we needed to clear into the port with the Port Captain, visit immigration with our crew and passports and pay our fee for a cruising permit. Having done that, we moved our boats to the marina for repairs, ours included because our RADAR was acting strangely and this might be an opportunity to fix it. Bryan and Dorothy sailed off to French Harbor, Roatan. After repairs, mine a few hours (only minimally successful), Grace a day and Bob a few weeks we went our separate ways. We followed Pearl to Roatan and had a great time. Grace went back to Rio Dulce. VIVA Bob joined us on Roatan after he got his repairs done, in January.

Christmas pot luck celebration at Coco View Resort, French Harbor, Roatan, Honduras, 2008

Three weeks went by quickly and as New Year's Eve approached, Bryan realized he could not find his Honduras Cruising Permit. The permit needs to be surrendered upon leaving the country and Bryan and Dorothy wanted to be on their way to Panama soon. VIVA Bob was still in Le Ceiba and tried to get the Port Captain to give him a copy of Bryan's Permit to send to Bryan, but the fellow refused. We had met Rich and Pat on S/V SoCal SoGood and they had a scanner/copier/printer. Recalling the Elton John Civil Partnership solution, Bryan and I took my cruising permit to Rich and Pat's boat and after a little copying and photoshopping Bryan had a new cruising permit. We all got together on S/V SoCal SoGood to ring in the New Year.  January was spent exploring West End and other anchorages on Roatan.  We also had a delightful reunion with Kwiana in French Harbor. In February Bryan and Dorothy set out to Guanaja, the eastern-most "Bay Island" in preparation for the challenge of waiting for weather for going east around Nicaragua and then heading south to Panama. They got their weather window.

We were waiting for new anchor chain, but when we checked it seemed to have been sold to another cruiser out from under us. I got our deposit returned and we left on the voyage to Bocas Del Drago, Panama, arriving the end of May. Bryan had heard we were on our way and left Bocas del Toro to meet us at Starfish Beach so that Barb and I would have company while we waited there until the next day, a Monday, to check into Panama. That was very thoughtful and we enjoyed another reunion

No panic in a cayuco (canoe) in Laguna de Bluefield, Panama, Jun 22, 2009.
Bryan entertains young Panamanian boys from Tobobe, June 23, 2009.

Richard and Pam arrived on S/C Tisha Baby and we met Wim and Annette (Austrian and German) on S/V Thetis. We all bummed around Bocas and the surroundings for some time and then we put Jupiter's Smile in the Marina so we could leave the country to "recharge" our visa by visiting and touring Costa Rica.

We left Bocas with Pearl and Thetis, to cruise the local islands and then made our way, day hopping, to Cayos Zapatilla, to Laguna de Bluefield, Tobabo, Escudo de Veraguas and then entered the Rio Chagres, the river outlet below the dam that forms Lago Gatun, the water source for the Panama Canal. We went up the river, almost to the dam, to a small lake to the right of the main channel. The three boats stayed here for several days. We saw lots of wildlife including crocodiles, howler monkeys (heard them too) and toucans all the while surrounded by thick jungle. There is a dock and a dirt road to the main road where we picked up the bus, crossed the dam and went to Colon and did some provisioning. The water in the lake is clean, fresh water so we all did laundry using the washing device on Thetis. Wim and Annette left their boat in our care and went to Panama City to see the sights.  Bryan and I had ordered portable generators while we were in Bocas and these were delivered to us at the dock while we were here.

One day a Panamanian patrol boat came into the lake and ordered us to leave. How many times had I been told by officials, "It is impossible!" as an answer to my requests? I turned the tables and said, "It is impossible!! Our friends on Thetis are in Panama City and we are charged with watching their boat. We can not leave. Impossible!" The official in charge made a couple of phone calls and then responded that surely two boats need not watch one and so one boat must leave. Bryan said he would leave. The official then softened and said Bryan just needed to be down the river to the first bend and be out of sight of the road so his superior would know that he had done his job. I called Wim's cell phone and told him that he needed to get back as soon as they could and that seemed to please the patrol captain. The captain took pictures of our boats, of us and of our passports and left with a wave of the hand and a smile. Nothing is entirely impossible.

Wim and Annette returned and we all departed, anchoring upstream of the river's mouth to explore old Fort St. Lorenzo. Next morning we said farewell to Thetis' crew and we sailed the seven miles together to the San Cristobal breakwater entrance where they entered the harbor and we pressed on to Portobelo. In Portobelo, the holding is difficult but we both got our anchor's set. Portobelo is an interesting historic site and a bus runs to a suburb of Colon where one may transfer to the bus to Panama City. Bryan, Barb and I did that to purchase batteries for our boat staying in a hotel for a night. That evening, my wallet went missing so I spent many hours calling our credit card companies canceling and arranging for re-issuing of new cards. Our replacement debit card could be delivered to the hotel, but the visa credit card could only be sent to a US address - damn! Bryan suggested we use Chris' address in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida because he decided he would fly to Florida (cheap Spirit Airline rate) to renew his Passport anyway and he could return with our credit card if the fates allowed. Barb went back to Portobelo alone, Bryan left for Florida and I arranged for five batteries and a taxi to deliver them and me to our boat.

While Bryan was gone, a storm blew through the anchorage and Pearl began to drag her anchor. I dinghyed over to help; and as we got Pearl secured, I noticed a catamaran, S/C True Companions, moving backwards, unattended. Some cruisers call this, "going walkabout". Dorothy and I dinghyed over, boarded and noticed that the keys for the engines were in the ignition switches. I started the engines and maneuvered. Wim realized what we were attempting to do and came over from Thetis to help as well. Wim and Dorothy got the anchor reset and we had saved the boat.

It turned out that the owners of the boat, Steve and Vickie, planned on crossing the Pacific and they were looking for crew. Dorothy agreed to join them but would stay with Bryan until we got to the San Blas Islands, a destination for her as well. When Bryan returned we left for the San Blas. After visiting a few islands, Dorothy departed at Carti for the van ride to Panama City to return to the States for a visit.  She subsequently joined Steve and Vickie for the passage across the Pacific. I'm pretty sure that having Dorothy aboard saved their lives while she completed her circumnavigation with them.

With Dorothy gone, Bryan single-handed Pearl, cruising around the San Blas Islands for a week with us before we sailed back to Portobelo and then to Shelter Bay Marina. Headed back to Bocas del Toro, he intended to anchor in the Rio Chagres, but ran aground. He got himself free and returned to Shelter Bay Marina to assess the damage. We left for Panama City and a flight to the US.

I believe Bryan left Shelter Bay and made it to Bocas del Toro with a plan in mind to earn a living transporting "backpackers" between Portobelo and Cartagena, Colombia. We know he had transmission troubles in Cartagena and got towed to the anchorage to effect repairs. We saw him again in the winter of 2009 in Cartagena. We had anchored in the Bay of Cholon. There is a fast, bumpy and sometimes wet open-boat ride that departs the Bay at 0600 arriving in Cartagena in about 45 minutes the only return trip is at 0945, leaving about three hours to do whatever business one needs to do. Bryan offered us shelter aboard Pearl so that we could spend some time together and we could catch the return trip the next day. He sailed into the Bay of Cholon with an eclectic group of travelers bound for Portobelo in January 2010. Even then, he was on a mission of mercy for one of his "crew members". We visited for the one day/evening he was there, and he and his crew sailed out the next morning. That was to be the last time we saw him on Pearl.

I do not know how many "backpacker" trips he made, but he eventually found his way back to the Rio Dulce. Finances conspired against him resulting in the loss of Pearl S. Buck and that must have been devastating, but I'll bet Bryan shrugged it off as much as he could and he went onward. What else could he do? He found friendship in Antigua, Guatemala, but I know very little about that. He came back to the US and was helping Clint and Carol do some remodeling at their home in Denver. Barb and I visited them, and Bryan returned the visit to stay with us for a night. That was the last time we hugged.

We sailed many miles with Bryan. We had many wonderful experiences with him. That we will not see him again is very saddening. Rest in peace my friend. You are missed already.

Happy at the helm in Galveston Bay, 2005.  Farewell my dear friend!