Log #63n Treacherous Papagayos winds to Tamarindo

November 15, 2019 in Logs by Series, Series 63, The Logs

Log #63n Treacherous Papagayos winds to Tamarindo

Elliot Lake, Ontario Canada

May 1, 2019

Hi Folks,

This log gets us down to Tamarindo in Costa Rica through the chaotic gale force winds called the Papagayos. There are three large stretches of the Pacific Central American coast through which gap winds ( the Tehuantepec, Fonseca, and Papagayos winds) howl from the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico side, jetting out into the Pacific. These winds are the main reason Judy has had enough, and is very anxious in heavy weather to the extent we are changing our cruising plans.

Veleda is currently in Bahia del Sol, El Salvador for the summer while we are back up here in Elliot Lake. Originally we were going to sail down to Panama and go through the Panama Canal next year and into the Caribbean for a few years. However Judy does not want to face these strong winds going back down.

We have thus changed our plans, now intending to ship Veleda across from Mexico or Guatemala to the Gulf of Mexico or the Rio Dulce, and sail it up to Florida into the ICW in November or December. The next season in 2020-2021, we would return Veleda up the ICW to Ontario, bringing her up to Lake Huron and keeping her in the North Channel Yacht Club a half hour’s drive from Elliot Lake. We hope to sell Antares Spring, the Grampian 30 we have up here, and continue to sail Veleda locally in the Great Lakes for many more years. It is time!

We encountered several other stretches of the Papagayos going down to Quepos, Costa Rica and back to El Salvador in February and March as I will describe in future logs, as bad as what we encountered in this log. Judy got anxious and depressed just editing this log for me.

We have had over 20 years of cruising distant waters in Veleda. I greatly appreciate Judy for putting up with me and our dreams for two decades. (Perhaps, as Judy’s mother once said, “If this is your dream, what is a nightmare?”) It is time.

All the best,

Aubrey

PS – Current thinking as of Dec. 2019 –  The expense of shipping the boat across to the Atlantic is prohibitive, at twice as much as we paid to ship it across the USA from Corpus Christie Texas to Bellingham, Washington in 2013. So now we are facing those horrendous winds again by sailing Veleda back down and through the Panama Canal, and up to Florida in Jan. to April next year (2020), then in June/July, up the ICW, Hudson River and Erie Barge Canal to Buffalo, and on up to our North Channel Yacht Club on the north shore of Lake Huron.

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Log #63n Treacherous Papagayos winds to Tamarindo

Elliot Lake, Ontario Canada

April 21, 2019

We departed the idyllic Bahia Huevos (10° 38.367′ N, 085° 40.711′ W) described in the previous Log #63m, at 0900 Feb. 7 for a short 8 mile run over to Marina Papagayos just outside of Playa de Coco for fuel and water and to get rid of garbage. No problem in tying up to their fuel dock and refuelling. Some cruisers were concerned that this high priced marina ($2.75 a foot per night) might not sell to transient boaters, but they did. It is an out of the way expensive marina catering to large yachts, remote from any town. For a fee they will check vessels in and out of the country, using a high priced agent to do so. We had already checked into the country when we were over at Playa de Coco (see Log #63l), fortunately, as we were checked out by a police boat a couple of days later when we were in Bahia Huevos. No problem, they just came alongside and asked for our papers. We handed them our immigration and customs documents, and they were on their way a few minutes later, pleasantly wishing us a safe journey.

We departed Marina Papagayos (named after the predominant, very heavy, offshore jet wind pattern which blows in this long stretch of Central America, from Guatemala and Nicaragua to central Costa Rica) by 1120, headed another 18 miles to Bahia Potrero. As we crossed Bahia de Coco we called Shearwater, still anchored in the bay, on the VHF to say we were departing the area and that we were having a good sail with ESE winds at 10 to 15 knots (light Papagayos) genoa only, no engine. It was a good sail most of the way. In the late afternoon, we rounded Punta Zapotal at the southwest end of the Gulf of Papagayos and were now pounding into the wind. We furled the genoa and motored the last hour or so, encountering a pod of dolphins that played around the boat for several minutes. By 1530 we dropped anchor in Bahia Potrero (10° 27.075′ N, 085° 46.466′ W).

 This is a wide bay, with many local small boats on moorings, over by the defunct Marina Flamingo and the Coast Guard station. We did not identify either, as we did not want to wander among the moored boats, and it was just an overnight stop anyways. We were anchored to the left of the moored boats, with a good view of the sandy beach lined by resorts and restaurants. To go ashore we would have to deal with a sandy beach and tides, making us reluctant to go in without wheels on the dinghy. There was an interesting swim platform with slides and a lower deck, but no one was using it while we were there.

Next morning, Feb. 8, we left at 0855 to motor around the point and Isla Santa Catalina, going outside of it just to be sure. The channel between the point and the island looked wide, but we were concerned about submerged rock spires and gave the island a wide berth. However, as we rounded the island we encountered strong NE winds of 15 knots gusting to 20. Judy is growing more weary and anxious in heavy weather and we didn’t want to face this heavy NE Papagayos wind for several more hours, and so adjusted our course to anchor at Playa Brasilito (10° 24.943′ N, 085° 47.785′ W) by 1000, for a short passage of only 4.7 nautical miles.

Again, we didn’t go ashore as we don’t like landing on a tidal gently sloping beach, but the anchorage was a bit rolly. We were intrigued by a brush fire we saw in the afternoon on the hillside, near a few hotels and condos. It wasn’t the usual burning of sugar cane fields and appeared to be in a few separated locations. These fires lasted into the evening and spread over the hillside near the resorts. It was quite a dramatic sight, as the fires spread more and more. A fire truck or emergency vehicle patrolled along the ridgeline, but the fire was allowed to spread even more. In the morning a few scorched areas were noted, but no buildings were burned, as far as we could tell. Pockets of smoke still rose from the hillsides as we weighed anchor next day, Feb.8, at 0750.

The Papagayos winds were still up at 20 to 25 knots, but at least they were blowing SE, a favourable direction as we partially unfurled the genoa and shut off the engine to sail at hull speed for an hour or so until the wind shifted. I turned on the engine at 0930 and we furled the genoa as we rounded Cape Velas in heavy gusts with winds of 25 to 35 knots (Damn Papagayos!). The winds continued to howl as we approached Tamarindo. Many charter, tourist and local boats were on moorings, but a couple of cruising boats were anchored on the windward side of this mooring field. We motored downwind to do a 180 degree turn into the wind and drop the anchor in 25 feet of water in 30 knots of wind. We let Veleda drift down until we had about 100 feet of scope out and snubbed the anchor chain. Would our anchor hold against 30 knots of wind and four-foot waves? It held, but we watched carefully to be sure it did not drag. By 1020 we felt the anchor would be OK (10° 18.126′ N, 085° 50.731′ W), and we relaxed a bit after the short, stormy, 11 nautical mile passage from Bahia Brasilito.

The wind kept up at 20 to 35 knots all day and night!

Tamarindo is known as “Gringo Central” as it is a popular surfing area. We watched the surf crashing on the beach and the few intrepid surfers enjoying the howling wind and waves crashing onto the beach. Needless to say, we did not go ashore.

Anchored outside of us was a large 60-foot ketch called Millenium, flying a red flag with a central symbol. As we tried to figure out what it was, we realized we had seen that flag before. When we were sailing down the Irish Sea in 2000, we visited the Isle of Man for a few days. The ensign is the Manx flag from the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea with the central symbol of three armoured legs.

We called on VHF to Millenium to ask about a weather forecast. Mark said this weather was about par for the course and had been blowing like that for several days. Lots of fun!

Next morning, Feb. 10, the winds were down to 15 to 20 knots (force 4 to 5) from the NE, and so I thought we could manage this as the winds were in a good direction for us. We weighed anchor at 0650, heading west out of the anchorage, motor sailing with a reefed genoa. Outside the bay, by 0710 we turned southerly (190° M), turned off the engine, and bounded along with the full genoa only at over 6 knots, hull speed. However, this was short-lived as by 0730 the winds were back up to gale force 8 at 35 knots, gusting up to 40; so we reefed the genoa by 50%. Then by 0745 I turned on the engine and furled the genoa to motor through the raging winds and waves. Did we want to suffer through this condition for the next 35 miles to our next destination? Should we turn back? That would put us directly into the wind and waves. Better pounding back into it for another hour or so than to put up with gale-force winds for the next seven or eight hours. At 0800 we turned 180° into the wind to motor back to Tamarindo.

We both acknowledged that this was the worst weather we had experienced since crossing the North Sea in a force 9 gale 19 years ago. It is in conditions like these that we are happy to have a reliable 30 horsepower diesel engine with a strong three-blade propellor to drive us through 4 to 6-foot waves into the teeth of 35 to 40 knots of screeching wind. However other things started to go wrong!

Our bimini has three wooden blocks inserted on the cross rail to give it a curvature for water runoff. Two of the three blocks blew over the side as the bimini lifted with the strong winds billowing up the underside as we were heeled over and the winds blew up under the bimini, lifting it a bit. We lashed a rope over the bimini, tieing the ends to the toe rail on either side, to avoid more lifting. We closed the front window on the dodger to give a bit of relief from the wind and spray howling through the cockpit. As we continued to plow into the oncoming waves I was drenched in the cockpit, as the crests bashed against Veleda’s hull and the spume lashed my face and bare arms.

Our stern pulpit is in two sections, joined by two wire strops with turnbuckles and pelican hooks. The upper turnbuckle fractured! This increased the stress on the stern pulpit from the dinghy attached to the pulpit on our dinghy-tow system. We quickly lashed the two sides together with a strong piece of line. By the time we approached the anchorage, the sea was a froth of white water lashed by gale-force winds even stronger than those we encountered yesterday. By 0907 we anchored in the same place and again were worried whether the anchor would hold in these howling conditions. It held OK.

We were back in Tamarindo after a two and a half hour treacherous return for a total passage of only 12 nautical miles, under horrendous conditions.