Log #63d Huatulco to Puerto Chiapas

November 3, 2019 in Log Series 60-69, Logs by Series, Series 63, The Logs, Uncategorized

Log #63d Huatulco to Puerto Chiapas

Bahia del Sol, El Salvador

Dec. 27, 2018

Hi Folks,

This log gets us across the treacherous Gulf of Tehuantepec down to Puerto Chiapas, our southernmost point in Mexico before heading down to El Salvador. I have included a bit of extra info on that gulf and sailboat passage through the Panama Canal. We have travelled 813 nautical miles from Barra de Navidad to Puerto Chiapas plus another 237 miles to here in El Salvador for a total of 1050 nautical miles from Nov. 7 to Dec. 8. We stayed here for Christmas and will probably leave for Honduras and Nicaragua early in the New Year. Unfortunately, Judy was under the weather with a gastrointestinal illness for Christmas Day, but she is better now. I didn’t do any decorating below but put up a few strings of lights up the mast. We were the only boat in the area with Christmas lights on.

 Judy is enjoying the hot weather. Her ideal climate is when getting up in the morning involves putting on a bathing suit. The temperatures vary from highs of 34° to lows of 25° C (75° to 90° F). We don’t swim in the river because of mud and debris and the heavy tidal currents, but we can use the pool at the local hotel/resort/marina. We have a fan in the main salon and I have another over my head in the Vee berth to keep cool. We even have sun shades for Veleda which cut down the heat considerably.

Thanks to those of you who sent Christmas greetings. It is always good to hear from old friends and acquaintances to keep in touch. I hope you enjoy the log.



Log #63d Hualtulco to Puerto Chiapas

Bahia del Sol, El Salvador

Dec. 22, 2018

We anchored in Huatulco (15⁰ 45.152′ N, 096⁰ 07.672′ W) after a 244 nautical mile passage of 46 hours from Acapulco. As mentioned in the previous log, we bypassed Punta Galera, as no pangas came out or were available to take us in to the lagoon for bird watching. As the anchorage was quite rolly, we continued on to Huatulco.

As we approached the entrance we saw the DRAGON’S BREATH, a blowhole in the rocks which sends up a spume of mist as the Pacific swells bash the shoreline even in calm weather.

As we entered the harbour we were visited by a few swallows, two of which hitched a ride on our genoa sheets.

We anchored off the main breakwall which could be used for cruise ships, but it only had one Mexican Navy patrol ship alongside.

We were in Huatulco in 2016 when we were on a Holland American cruise ship on a repositioning cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Vancouver.

Fort Lauderdale to Vancouver via the Panama Canal

In May of 2016 we were in our trailer at Rusty’s RV Park in southwestern New Mexico, and Veleda was stored for the winter on Thetis Island, a northern Gulf Island just off the Vancouver Island picturesque town of Chemainus. We left the trailer and our GMC Yukon at Rusty’s for the summer and flew out to Fort Lauderdale to take the Holland American cruise through the Panama Canal up to Victoria and back to Veleda.

We thought we would be going through the Panama Canal at some time with Veleda, and this would be a good time to orient ourselves to the area. This was just before the new larger canal was opened. The interesting thing we saw about small boats going through the canal was that a group would be rafted together through the canal locks with lines going from each boat on the bow and stern quarters to both sides of the canal, and held in the middle of the lock.

We will see next year when we go through the canal.

We needed to go into the inner harbour to check in with the Captaina, but found the entire harbour chock full of pangas side by side, bows to without any room to even squeeze between them. We were warned of this by an American boat Tappen Zee which left that afternoon, suggesting we land on the beach to go into town.

However beach landings are fraught with tidal changes unless the dinghy is hauled up above the high tide line. A heavy hard bottomed dinghy such as ours is difficult to haul up a beach. Many dinghies down here have two wheels mounted on the transoms that can be lowered to tow the dinghy up the beach as illustrated in the picture below.

The inner public and ferry docks were also quite busy loading and unloading passengers. However, I found an empty spot in front of a passenger panga on the docks and tied up there while Judy went with our documentation to the Captaina. It was a hot sunny day and I did not want to get sunburned waiting in the dinghy for a half hour or more, and so wandered onto the dock keeping an eye out for the dinghy and any official who might want the dinghy to be moved. No problem.

I scouted out the shore side amenities, as the ferry docks were across from a lovely public park adjacent to a tourist market. There were no gas stations with diesel. There was a taxi stand and 5-gallon bottles of water available. After Judy returned we took a taxi into the adjacent town for diesel and oil for an oil change. On returning in the taxi with five 20 litre jerry cans full of diesel, and two small five-litre containers of gas for the outboard and Honda generator, I got a small cart from the docks and was assisted over to load them in the dinghy by a helpful gentleman working there. He would not accept any tip offered to him.

The Gulf of Tehuantepec

Next day we wanted to leave but needed to check the weather on the internet, as our next leg of over 240 nautical miles to Puerto Chiapas crossed the treacherous Gulf of Tehuantepec. Our pilot books were full of warnings about crossing this gulf which can blow up into force eight gales at short notice and create extremely steep seas. As the caption in the diagram below states, “ If a gale is predicted at 35 knots, it is very possible you could experience winds in excess of 45 knots in 5he middle of the Tehuantepec. The most dangerous thing about the Tehuantepec is the very steep seas. For example, in a very strong blow, the seas can build rapidly to ten to fifteen feet at four to five seconds…” It goes on to indicate ships can be blown off course into even heavier seas offshore, and the swells propagated can reach as far away as the Galapagos Islands 800 miles offshore!

Another cruising guide recommends “keeping one foot on the shore” ie. hugging the shoreline all the way around. It stresses, The safest way to cross the gulf is to remain in the lee of the shore. If you have a good weather window, you can remain about 3 miles off the shore in about 100 feet to avoid fishing traffic and any shore-side hazards. If you start to experience northerly winds, head immediately to the 30-foot line about 1/4 mile to 1/2 mile off the shore.”

This phenomenon is caused by a venturi effect of systems coming down the Gulf of Mexico funnelled by the Yucatan across the narrow stretch of Mexico between the mountains, and blowing with force out the Pacific side in the Gulf of Tehuantepec as shown in the diagram below.

See also the map at the beginning of this log.

At the restaurant where we had brunch, the internet weather website indicated continuing good weather with only variable winds no more than five to ten knots, and so we were good to go.

We weighed anchor Friday, November 30, mid-afternoon at 1430 (2:30 pm), having calculated a distance of 250 nautical miles at five knots would take us 50 hours to arrive in Puerto Chiapas in daylight. As the winds were light, we did not raise the main and motored out the first hour before unfurling the genoa to continue motor sailing. During the afternoon we saw plenty of sea life. A pod of about ten dolphins played around for a while. Then we saw several rays wafting through the water, and a couple leaping out of the water. We noticed a few turtles lazing on the surface and a couple of humorous ones that had a seagull perched on the shell.

We motor sailed all night. I enjoy settled night passages, gliding over the black sea, watching the phosphorescence created by our waves. Occasionally I would see a sheen of phosphorescence outside of our wake, to realize it would be a dolphin or other large fish swimming alongside below the surface. The wavelets breaking on the surface would create a shimmer of diamonds over the dark water. Sometimes the sea is so calm that the stars are reflected in it.

The panoply of stars sparkling in the night sky is always intriguing to me, especially before the moon rises. I enjoy watching as the orb of stars marches across the sky from east to west. The moon displays a cool yellow glow on the horizon just before it rises into the heavens. Sometimes the moon is partially hidden by the few clouds in the sky, and the view is particularly interesting if there are scattered clouds on the horizon just before moonrise. Then rather than the full moon, only specks or slices of it gleam between the clouds, giving the clouds a silver lining.

When I came up to relieve Judy just after sunrise at 0630, we decided to hoist the main, and to alter course away from the land to head directly across the Gulf of Tehuantepec. We felt the conditions were settled enough to try it rather than keeping one foot on the beach. We only saw one dolphin and no other ships all day. I added another jerry can of diesel to the tank just to ensure we didn’t run low on fuel, as we had the engine on all voyage. The winds continued to be light southerlies on our now direct course of 112° M. We possibly could have sailed but our speed would have been below two knots, adding a couple of days to the passage, and making a daylight entry to Puerto Chiapas questionable. We are not purists, and use the engine (sometimes called the IRON GENNY). So far this season we have sailed without the engine less than 5% of the time, and 95% of the time as Judy says we are a powerboat with a tall mast.

Late that afternoon, I saw far off to starboard a tall cumulonimbus cloud, the anvil top being blown off by the upper winds. It was far out to sea, and I hoped it would not cause a t-pecker, as such would come from port inshore. As it was there was no problem on my first watch that night, but unfortunately Judy had to go through an hour or two of rain (for only the second time in two months) on her watch.

In the morning, Sunday, Dec. 2 when I relieved a soggy Judy just after sunrise (at 0623) I put in another two jerry cans of fuel. We only had 60 miles to go, but I do not like to fuel level to get too low, for two reasons. One is that when it gets too low the conditions might not be calm enough to refuel at sea. The other is that as the fuel level gets low dirt stirred up from the bottom of the tank could block the filter, starving the engine of fuel.

I relieve Judy around sunrise as part of our watch system when on passage. As I have trouble getting to sleep at sea, I take the first watch after supper around sunset between 1830 and 1900 and Judy goes to bed. In calm conditions, we will sleep up forward in the Vee berth, our usual bed. In rougher weather, we will use the port or starboard settee with lee cloths tied to the upper handrails. These locations are in the low centre of the boat and have the least motion. I will stay on watch until midnight or 0100 to 0200 depending on how tired I am. Judy then takes it until sometime around sunrise (0530 to 0730), then she turns in for a few more hours of sleep.

Our speeds during the passage varied between 3.5 to 5.5 knots. We calculated an average speed of 5.0 knots to assess the length of time to complete the 250-mile passage for an estimate of 50 hours. We arrived in Puerto Chiapas at 1630 after a passage of 237 nautical miles, a bit less than anticipated as we cut across the gulf rather than keeping one foot on the beach. Thus our actual transit time was 50 hours (from 1430 two days earlier to 1620 on arrival), a reasonably good calculation.

We furled the main and genoa about an hour before arriving, to motor into the inner channel of the marina. We called ahead and were greeted by the marina officials who arranged for the necessary customs immigration and military inspections. As Puerto Chiapas is the southernmost port in Mexico and has boats either entering or leaving Mexican waters from there, security is a bit tighter than other marinas. No problem though. Officials were pleasant, and the four armed military personnel did not even bother coming aboard, but just accepted the documents made out by the immigration and marina personnel.

We were in Puerto Chiapas, our last port in Mexico (14⁰ 41.924′ N, 092⁰ 23.497′ W) getting ready for our next major passage of 237 nautical miles to Bahia del Sol in El Salvador.