It Was a Caribbean cruise - or as close to one as a couple of backpackers like Rob and I were ever going to get. We rejected the possibility of a 15-minute flight from the Honduran mainland to the island of Utila, and opted instead for the four-hour trip on the Linda Girl, a little cargo vessel carrying provisions and building materials to the islanders.
"Have they never heard of a Plimsoll line?" said Rob as we stepped on deck. We climbed over crates of Coke, settled on a pile of sandbags, and leaned against our backpacks. The islanders, back from mainland shopping sprees, greeted each other in their strange pidgin English, with traces of 100-year-old Scottish. The blond, freckled, captain shouted orders in a bizarre pidgin/Spanish mix, and we were off, accompanied by a refreshing breeze.
Half an hour later, we were out of the bay, and the swell was growing. The boat was alarmingly low-lying, and very soon waves were sending water pouring back and forth across the deck. Then the islanders, a seafaring people, began vomiting, and bringing rosaries out of their pockets. The captain shouted orders to the crew in his unintelligible English. Everyone was soaked to the skin, and each new wave brought fresh shrieks and weeping, before we all settled back into nervous silence.
Then there was a shout from the engine room. It was flooded! No sooner had the pump been brought up, than the engine stalled, and there was no longer any control of the boat. When the pump wouldn't work, the male passengers were told to start off-loading the cargo. Rob was the first on his feet, hurling as many sandbags into the sea as he was able.
Meanwhile, I was shaking uncontrollably and a member of the crew was fitting a toddler's life-jacket on to the youngest passenger. A hitherto oddly calm backpacker asked for the other life-jackets, and when it emerged that there were none, she burst into hysterical sobbing. I've never seen anyone lose their composure so fast. Her panic made me forget my own fear, and I found myself hugging this stranger, trying to convince both of us that we'd survive this ordeal.
"When we go in the water, first thing - take your boots off!" ordered Rob, and my worldly possessions now meant nothing to me.
Eventually, the pump started working and the captain skillfully steered us through four unending hours of fear and nausea, until we finally reached the calm bay of Utila.
We staggered off the Linda Girl, looking for the standby medical team.
"Rough trip?", grinned a lad handing us an advertisement for his hotel.
"We nearly sank," I whimpered.
"Already? She only went down last month, but they managed to raise her," he replied.