The Harbormaster of Gringo Bay

In Clearwater they said, “stop by to see Jennifer.”In Isla Mujeres, someone commented, “see Jennifer in El Rio Dulce.” “Who is she?” “An artist, with a home on ‘The Rio.’”In Belize City, on learning that we planned to spend several months on “The River,” another boater advised us to stop by “Gringo Bay,” a small inlet on the south side of El Golfete, the widest spot on the river,
Author:
Updated:
Original:

In Clearwater they said, “stop by to see Jennifer.”

In Isla Mujeres, someone commented, “see Jennifer in El Rio Dulce.” “Who is she?” “An artist, with a home on ‘The Rio.’”

In Belize City, on learning that we planned to spend several months on “The River,” another boater advised us to stop by “Gringo Bay,” a small inlet on the south side of El Golfete, the widest spot on the river, and to say hello to Jennifer. “How do we find her,” we asked. “Check the drawing in Freya Raucher’s Guide,” they said.” Westbound, after the river widens, look for the third little bay. Plenty of water everywhere. Her home is there.”

So, we anchored, hopped into Pachi, our tender, and motored, hesitantly, doubtfully, to a charming home that we thought might be Jennifer’s, the only evidence being three boats apparently moored and stored about 150 feet off the porch, and another docked to one side. All was quiet. We could see no one, until we got close, and observed a person standing on the porch, brush in hand, preparing a painting. We said, “Ahh, err, by any chance, are you Jennifer?” “Yes, I am.” “Well, maybe, we heard that possibly, if you have time, you prepare dinner for boaters?” “True,” she said. “It's too late today, but we could do it tomorrow night. What do you like? Meat, fish or chicken?” The next night, like dozens of boaters before us, we had a quiet dinner, the three of us, relaxed and comfortable, flowers everywhere, numerous small kerosene lanterns providing romantic light, in the personal style that has made Jennifer a warm and accommodating presence since 1989.

Jennifer Lindeen entered The University of Wisconsin-Stout, at age 25. Her daughter, Jessica, was six. Working as a waitress and supporting her daughter, she studied the arts, especially printmaking and sculpture, and graduated in five years. Then, she returned to her home state of Minnesota and went to work at the well-known Minneapolis restaurant, Gluecks. It was 1979. She fell in love with the owner, Kent Holcomb, who had learned to sail as a boy. He took Jennifer sailing on Lake Superior in a Pearson 30.

Kent had always dreamed of life on the sea. This was a long-term ambition that became a short-term goal when he was diagnosed with diabetes. It was time to lay off the stress, to “squeeze more into life,” to advance the time frame. Jennifer had no trouble accepting the dream. They purchased an Ericson Cruising 36, and named it October, the month of her birth, marriage, and of the boat's purchase. After Jessica’s high school graduation in 1986, Kent and Jennifer began their live-aboard traveling odyssey. Moving through the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence Seaway, Quebec, the Maritimes, and the Bay of Fundy, they searched for quiet spots. They wanted to make the annual November meeting of The Seven Seas Cruising Association in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, so they blasted down the ICW, with ice on the deck. They moved through the Keys and around to Ft. Meyers Beach, where Jennifer again worked as a waitress while they outfitted October with a new engine, paint, and an single side band radio.

Kent and Jennifer left for Isla Mujeres in April, 1988, then moved on to Belize to avoid Hurricane Gilbert. During 1989 and 1990, they sailed between Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, but always back to Guatemala, where the thought of buying land grew more forceful with each new visit.

In the late 1980s, through the mid 1990s, Guatemala would not have seemed attractive to any American tourist. A civil war dominated both the news and the economy. The area of El Rio Dulce was undeveloped and unsophisticated, a place isolated by geography and circumstances, a completely undeveloped oasis. At the time, most Americans would have considered buying land in Guatemala as an absurd risk, made more so by the absence of property records and surveys. Sellers were squatters who did not know the boundaries of their properties. A transfer was accomplished by “walking the lines” hoping that no one would later challenge the assumptions. (Today, Jennifer has a GPS survey.)

Kent and Jennifer built a bodega, which became the home of the first construction contractor. The contractor asked one day whether he and his family could live there. A few days later, he arrived with his wife—and twelve children. Meanwhile, Jennifer and Kent lived aboard October. Early construction involved forming and placing cement pilings, accomplished by workers standing on small cayucos, pounding down by hand until the piling hit solid ground. At the most active point of construction, 33 people lived on their land. Kent and Jennifer did all of the work after the pilings were completed. They had help one weekend for a “house raising party” when a dozen boaters came over to raise the side walls. It was a good time, so good that Jennifer never told the party goers that the walls were later torn down. The walls did not match, corner to corner.

Looking at the present house, the absence of access by road, the sophistication and beauty of its construction, and its presence, an observer is challenged to believe that it was done by two people who obtained most building supplies on two day car trips to Guatemala City, in a little Audi, with an oversize luggage rack, occasionally transporting hard wood, Chicozapote, illegally felled and obtained from the local forestry officer who had confiscated it.

As construction neared completion, the practical needs of life became evident. Jennifer and Kent experimented with several businesses such as providing river transportation, making canvas covers for boaters (Jennifer), and lobster fishing (Kent), but the best was chartering. For more than six years, October hosted dozens of travelers, including a U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala, a French Ambassador and his companion, a Guatemalan Ambassador to The United States, a Peace Corps volunteer and his parents, and numerous Europeans and Guatemalans, most attracted by word of mouth through agents in Antigua and Guatemala City. Jennifer’s easy going graciousness undoubtedly helped both this business and her remarkable role as the hostess of the Rio Dulce.

Jennifer has applied the appellation “Accidental Restaurant” to her home and property. The “accident” took place in 2003. Just before dark, a Danish sailing vessel neared her front porch, with a crewmember indicating a desire to dock by prominently holding and displaying a dock line. They said:

“Is this a marina?” “No”

“Is this Fronteras?” “No.

“Is this a restaurant.” “No. This is my house.”

Jennifer soon realized that this crew had no chart, no food, little water, and little remaining energy. She invited them to dinner, and started a tradition.

Jennifer does most of her work, cooking, and living on the expansive porch that opens to Bahia Buena Vista, the correct name for the waters in front. The entire building rests on pilings. It has no doors. She uses local materials anywhere and everywhere. For example, a kitchen counter is supported by bamboo, with utensils stored conveniently in the natural holes. One end of the porch floor supports her many projects. Making courtesy flags, watching boats for land-traveling owners, and selling smoked robalo at the weekly swap meet produce income. The propane refrigerator has leopard spots on the door. What little electricity she uses is supplied by solar panels and stored in batteries, though a standby generator helps once in a while. A VHF radio and a cell phone keep her in touch. At least once a week, Jennifer boards her launcha for the 45-minute trip to Fronteras, Rio Dulce, where she stocks up, sells product, and visits with daughter Jessica.

Her neighbors are mostly K’ekchi’ Mayans or mixed K’ekchi’ and Garifuna. They are welcome to take water from Jennifer’s well, anytime, without charge. She helps where she can. She and other boaters and friends are supporting a Mayan deaf girl and her family. To obtain specialized education, the girl needs to commute five hours to school. A better solution is for the girl to live at the school, though her parents resist. If things work out, Jennifer’s foundation will cover the extra costs. Boaters have also organized and sponsored the first high school in the local village, now with 6 alumni. Notebooks, backpacks and other supplies for 33 elementary students in need are given.

The 7:30 a.m. channel 68 Rio Dulce net always has someone calling Jennifer. Most boaters who arrive in Rio Dulce stop by Gringo Bay on their way to the town Rio Dulce. Most boaters stop by again, on their way out. The location is charming, and the hostess is reassuring. She brings people together. The experiences of a guest remind her of situations in her life or in the life of a previous guest. Of her life, she says, “I am not interesting, but my life is, and I love watching it.” Jennifer Lindeen is the harbormaster of Gringo Bay. John Guy

Related

e60aa842-1c3c-41da-b0ba-dfd7678479e4

The New York Yacht Club Submits a Protocol Alteration with its America’s Cup Challenge

The New York Yacht Club (NYYC) has submitted a challenge for the 37th America’s Cup to the current Defender, the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron (RNZYS) in Auckland, New Zealand. The challenge was accompanied by a draft protocol for the regatta, which would see the Cup take ...read more

01-LEAD-CCA-Antarctica2-01

Cruising: Honoring Remarkable Ocean Voyages and Seamanship

The Cruising Club of America, an organization of about 1,300 offshore sailors, has been honoring remarkable ocean voyages and seamanship with an array of prestigious awards for nearly 100 years. The club’s highest honor, the Blue Water Medal, has recognized renowned and ...read more

2.4mR's racing at the 2018 Clagett Regatta-US Para Sailing Championships credit Clagett Regatta-Andes Visual

Host for 2021 U.S. Para Sailing Championships Announced

The 2021 U.S. Para Sailing Championships will be hosted by The Clagett Regatta at Sail Newport, in Newport, R.I. on August, 24-29, 2021, according to a joint announcement from the host and US Sailing. "We have had a very long working relationship with US Sailing and look forward ...read more

Reflections-photo-CMerwarth

Cruising: Reflections of an Old Salt

I am 90 years old, dwindling in mind and body and fear living too long. Twenty years have passed since I last weighed anchor. Still, when a Carolina blue sky is polka-dotted with billowing cumulus clouds and the wind blows fair, I sorely miss raising sail and setting forth. I ...read more

DSC_0145

Waterlines: Solo Sailing

In spite of the fact I came to the sport of sailing alone and untutored, in a boat I acquired on my own, I never really aspired to become a solo sailor. It just sort of happened. All these years later, I still never explicitly plan to sail anywhere alone. I’m always happy to ...read more

01a-DJI_0398

Racing The M32 Class

This year the M32 celebrates its 10th birthday. Swedish Olympic bronze medalist Göran Marström and Kåre Ljung designed the M32 in 2011 as the latest addition to an already impressive portfolio that includes the Tornado, M5 A-Class, M20 catamaran and the Extreme 40. Two years ...read more

01-LEAD-23274-Coastal-Oilskins-GSP

Know how: Cleats, Clutches and Jammers

Since the invention of rope, there has also been a need to belay or secure it. Every sailboat has rope on board so, unless you own a superyacht with captive reels or winches, you’re going to have to find a way to make it fast. (As a side note—and before you reach for your ...read more

9e4d8714-2a8e-4e79-b8f6-c9786aaec4d0

Antigua Sailing Week Announces Women’s Mentorship Program

In partnership with the Antigua and Barbuda Marine Association, Antigua Sailing Week is launching a mentorship program to encourage women and girls to join the sport of sailing. President of Antigua Sailing Week, Alison Sly-Adams says, “When we devised the program, we looked at ...read more