Log #63i El Salvador to Nicaragua

November 13, 2019 in Log Series 60-69, Logs by Series, Series 63, The Logs, Uncategorized

Log #63i El Salvador to Nicaragua

Bahia Brasilito, Costa Rica

Feb. 8, 2019

Hi Folks,

At present we are bobbing and rolling at anchor in this open bay in Costa Rica, blown by 15 to 20 knot offshore winds of the Papagayos as described in my attached Log #63i. This log gets us into Nicaragua, details the heavy sail we had across the Golfo de Fonseca and describes the heavy wind patterns which plague this coast several months a year, including now.

Other than the winds the weather here continues to be clear, hot, dry, and sunny. We have not seen any rain for over two months. We are both fine except I have had a pain in my upper left leg at the hip when I put weight or twist it at a certain angle. I hope it does not presage anything more complicated than a short term spasm.

We are still considering not going any further than Costa Rica, and returning to Bill and Jean’s at Bahia del Sol in El Salvador. Prices here in Costa Rica are expensive, the few marinas catering to large mega yachts, and charging $2.00 to $2.75 (US) a foot per day! In Panama there do not seem to be many marinas this side. So our tentative plans are to sail back to El Salvador, about 500 miles, in one or two long legs in late March to go back to Canada in early April. Next fall when we come down we would head directly for Panama, again in two or three long legs, to play around the Pacific coast of Panama before going through the Canal in February or March of 2020. (Gosh, that number sounds futuristic!)

I don’t know when we will next have access to the internet to send this, but I have it saved for whenever we next get on. Down here there are only beach landings, no docks except at the few marinas. We are seriously looking at wheels for the dinghy, as dragging it up through the sand to above the high tide mark is exhausting.

Don’t be too distressed at the description of our heavy sail across the Golfo de Fonseca, as we both survived it as well as Veleda.

All the best,

Aubrey

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Log #63i El Salvador to Nicaragua

Feb. 1, 2019

Playa de Coco, Costa Rica

 We contracted with Robert, a guide recommended by Bill and Jean of Bahia del Sol, for a five day trip into San Salvador, Suchitoto, and a couple of national parks and volcanoes in central El Salvador. It was a worthwhile tour, with the first two nights at a comfortable international hostel in San Salvador and the last two at a lovely hotel on the plaza in Suchitoto, both locations quite economical

Judy and Melvin at Parque Nacional

(about $50.00 a night). Robert and Melvin, an ornithologist, picked us up at the Marina Bahia del Sol, and drove us to Parque Nacional Walter Deininger. It is an interesting park with aerial zip line activities through the trees, which we didn’t bother with, but enjoyed the hike through the stream valley bird-watching. Judy saw six new (to her) birds and over 25 other species. In the afternoon we went into San Salvador to El Boqueron, a volcano overlooking the city for lunch and some more bird watching, including a lush garden with many colourful hummingbirds. Judy saw six more first sighting birds and a dozen species on our walk.

 We went into San Salvador, a big crowded city surrounded by several volcanoes. At the hostel, we didn’t feel comfortable wandering around the area at night but enjoyed a quiet meal at a nearby Italian restaurant. Next morning we went to a plastic dealer to get a couple of Plexiglas windows for the boat. We had the dimensions, and the gentleman had them cut to size for us. We enjoyed meeting his family; the daughter was studying for her bachelor’s degree at the University of British Columbia. We then went to the San Salvador Botanical Gardens, a small fenced off well-landscaped garden in the middle of an industrial area. It was a most delightful few hours for four new species and 28 other species. Robert was not with us, but Melvin who spoke some English was a good guide. To go from one location to another he used his phone to call an Uber taxi. It worked out quite well. After lunch, at a large food court in a downtown mall, we went to Parque del Bicentenario, a dry dusty large city park in which Judy saw 23 other species. I was too tired and so I just slept on a park bench while they did the tour.

 The third day Robert and Melvin took us to Cerro Verde where Judy saw eight new species and 24 other species. The lush large mountainside park encompasses three volcanoes. Two days earlier, while at El Boqueron, we hiked up to the top of the caldera to peer down into the currently inactive volcano to see the small round lake heated by the geothermal activity.

 There are a few geothermal generating stations in El Salvador because of the many volcanoes throughout the small country.

On our way over to Suchitoto, we went around a giant caldera in which is located Lago De Coatepeque, much of the road going along the crest of an extinct volcano.

Lago De Coatepeque in a caldera

 Next morning Judy and Robert went early to an Indigo Hacienda where she saw three new species and 39 other species. I slept in. Suchitoto is a pleasant town with a main square fringed on two sides by a collonaded stretch of restaurants and tourist boutiques, and the town church on the end side. We learned how to make pupusas as I described in an earlier log. I also got a haircut, with a misinterpreted instruction for short hair on the sides, but she took the clippers for short hair on the sides and the top. I lost my little curl on top, sob sob! Oh well, it is easy to brush. 

Around Suchitoto we saw much evidence of, I wouldn’t call it a feminist movement, but supportive of women, as there were several posters protesting violence against women and another lauding the contribution women made in El Salvador’s civil war, and other efforts to get women educated and working.

 

Mujeres” is Spanish for“Women”.

 

 

The last day in Suchitoto Judy went early shopping at the local market with Robert’s Salvadoran wife Tita before we returned to Marina Bahia del Sol in the late afternoon. It was a worthwhile few days into inland El Salvador, with Judy seeing over 27 new species of birds.

After a few days of maintenance, including installing the new windows and re-bedding a couple others, an engine flush and oil change, and checking the alternator and water belts, we were ready for our next 110-mile passage to Nicaragua, a very heavy passage! We had no problems crossing the bar out of Bahia del Sol, as it was a calm day, and on our way out we had to wait at one point for a minute or so to avoid a developing surge, and then placidly motored out beyond the bar and into open water. We departed the mooring by 0920, and had crossed the bar by 0950 (the actual bar, not the bar that is crossed at one’s death) a morbid association, for a heavy 110-mile passage to Nicaragua as described below. Upon leaving Bahia del Sol we put up the full main and genoa to sail for a few hours then alternated between sailing and motor sailing when the winds lessened, but never getting above 10 to 15 knots of wind – at least not in the first ten hours.

Windy weather areas in Central America

 As Central America narrows south of Mexico, the Pacific coast can be influenced by high-pressure systems in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, and combined with the easterly trade winds across the Atlantic, can howl across the isthmus and through mountain valleys to create several areas of high and gusting winds. These winds are named after the four major gulfs, across which they blast. They are the Golfos of Tehuantepec, Fonseca, Papagayos (S. Nicaragua and N. Costa Rica on the chartlet above), and Panama.

In addition to these winds being influenced by conditions in the Caribbean, they are accelerated by their passage through the mountain valleys and can be quite gusty. We have experienced sudden gusts where the wind went from 10 knots to over 25 knots in the space of four seconds! The guide books suggest consulting weather websites before passage making, with the warning that the wind speeds are average, and that the gusts can be twice the rated speed levels. It is also recommended that boats hug the coast so the wave action is less due to the shorter fetch.

The chartlet below shows our passage from Mexico to Costa Rico. When coming from Huatulco to Chiapas, we were initially going to hug the shoreline, but as we progressed, the weather was calm and we went straight across the Gulf of Tehuantepec (# 1), with no problems. When we left from Bahia del Sol in El Salvador, again the weather was calm as we approached the opening of the Golfo de Fonseca (# 2). At 1915 (7:15 pm) the wind was only force 2 (4 to 6 knots) and we were motoring, and so decided to cut the corner and go straight across. Bad move!

Locations of the four heavy wind patterns

A midnight emergency

Shortly after starting to cross Golfo de Fonseca the wind went up to force 4 (about 15 knots), and I unfurled the genoa to sail for a couple of hours. To complicate the passage, there were several white flashing lights and a few fixed lights from net buoys and panga fishermen. It was difficult to assess how far away the lights were, and they moved randomly as fishermen set their nets or trawls. Lots of fun avoiding these lights. I shone a powerful flashlight on them and then illuminated the genoa and main to let them know a sailboat was underway through them.

At 2230 (10:30 pm) I reefed the genoa to about 50% as the wind was blowing a steady force 5 (17 to 21 knots) and the seas were working up to two metre (7 foot) swells as we were pounding into them. We still had the full main up but were not going to try to reef it under these conditions. Then about 2320, I smelled diesel fuel! When I scanned the side decks, I saw the fuel jerry cans on the port side deck had broken loose from the fender board behind which they were lashed. Two of them were sloshing maniacally, still tied by their handles to the stanchions by a single line. We were going to lose them overboard or they were going to bash themselves open and spill diesel all down the side deck. I reluctantly called Judy up (I was the one who wanted to cut across the gulf, and I was on watch.) and we hove to in order to stabilize the boat. As we did so, a light from an otherwise unlit fishing panga, 20 metres astern of us, illuminated us for a minute or so then went out as we were moving away from it. I never saw him before he flashed his light.

To heave to, the boat swings across the wind, but keeps the genoa set so it backs against the wind, adjusting the helm and main to settle it down. This manoeuvre will stall the boat and stabilize it to drastically reduce the motion of plowing through the waves. I stayed in the cockpit at the helm adjusting the mainsail which was still up, while Judy put on her harness attached to a jack line stretched from fore to aft along the side deck, and went up the port side deck to lash the jerry cans securely. In addition to tending the helm, I passed up extra lines to attach the jerry cans and shone a flashlight on the evolution. This was a perilous task in the middle of the night, as we were still bobbing up and down in two-metre waves in 20 plus knots of wind. After the tanks were secured we resumed our course, but rather than bashing into the waves with our genoa and main powering us ahead, we furled the genoa and just motored the rest of the night until arriving at our destination in Nicaragua. Judy was quite shaken from the exercise and whimpered that she didn’t know how many such emergencies she had left in her. ( This was the first indication that Judy was at the end of her willingness to continue long-distance cruising, and we have subsequently decided to bring Veleda back up to the Great Lakes, next season in 2020.)

Judy went below to try to get some more sleep and I carried on motoring from midnight until relieved about 0400 when Judy came on watch. We furled the main about 0700 and at 0755 we arrived at Marina Puesta del Sol in Nicaragua after an exhausting 22-hour passage of 110 nautical miles. However, at the marina we were greeted by Vicki and Rowan and their two girls, from Taliesin Rose, and Eric and Patti from Shearwater, boats we met in El Salvador but who had left several days before us.

More about Nicaragua, Costa Rica and the Papagayos winds in my next log.